Unicorns, Easter Bunnies, Tooth Fairies, and Milk Cows

It’s a blustery day in New York, and I’ve just returned to the office after cleaning one of our main cow barns with my friend David.

My pal Tucker, a 2,500-pound Guernsey steer, greeted me by burying his face in my chest and “mooing” softly — a barely audible sound that I call cows’ “I love you” moo. Beautiful Bernard, a two-year-old Jersey steer, lowered his head for us to scratch between his horns. Sadie, closing in on twenty years old, peered in from outside. The work began: lifting soiled straw and poop, piling it high in the truck, dumping it, going in for another load.

Ninety minutes after we started, the barn floor was pristine. We popped open three large bales of straw … and that’s when the party began. Bernard used his horns to break apart the individual sections of straw while Tucker came toward me, wanting to scratch his head against a large section of straw, which he did over, and over, and over. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Sadie came in, did a little dancy-dance (cows hop when they’re excited), then “helped” with the bedding process.

Tucker was the first to lie down in his warm bed.

Kathy and Tucker
Photo: Michael Karas

I sat down just in front of Tucker, rubbed his head — his cheeks, the broad space between his eyes, his ears. “I love you, Tuck,” I whispered. Before we left, I stretched out over his broad back to hug as much of his massive body as I could.

“Why does he keep swallowing?” David asked.

“Cows swallow when they’re filled with emotion,” I explained.

To be honest, I’d rather have spent the rest of the day communing with the cows — Patty, who gives wonderful facials with her scratchy tongue and tries desperately to steal my coffee or Molly who loves to be brushed. Few things in life feel more pure, more real, than spending time with animals. But the dairy industry has recently launched a campaign called “Get Real” to combat “misinformation” about the “wholesomeness” of their product, and as real and true and pure as my morning with my cow friends was, I’ve gotta “get real” about the dairy industry.

Bernard then and now
Bernard when he arrived at CAS and today

Beautiful Bernard was taken from his mother, a dairy cow, right after he was born. No doubt they both cried in anguish. Bernard fortunately found his way to Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Other newborn male calves aren’t so lucky.

Hampel Calf-Tel Hutches
Photo: hampelcorp.com/case-studies/agricultural/

Many, labeled “bob veal,” are slaughtered shortly after birth. Others are confined in traditional crates barely larger than their bodies, slightly larger “huts” like the ones pictured here, or indoor “group housing.”

Not only do these baby cows not have mom. They also don’t have mom’s milk. Instead, they’re fed an iron-deficient diet that gives them scours and leaves them anemic (it’s this unnatural diet that makes their flesh pale and tender.)

Meanwhile, what does Mom’s life look like? Let’s get real about that. “Milk cows” who magically produce milk for humans to enjoy don’t exist anymore than unicorns or tooth fairies or Easter bunnies do. Milk is produced for one’s offspring. That is the only reason an animal makes milk. So, in order to ensure a steady milk supply, cows are repeatedly impregnated. Their heads are restrained while a man sticks a long rod into their vaginas to impregnate them.

Many dairy cows spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are crammed into massive, fly-infested mud lots where they live in their own waste.

Several times each day electronic machines that cause lesions and mastitis are hooked to their swollen, tender udders.

In America, 17% of  cows are given bovine growth hormone, which causes greater milk production but can lead to disorders like inflammation of the udders and lameness. (It’s banned in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and other countries.)

Cows should live to 25 years old. However, this system is so taxing on a cow’s body that her milk supply tapers off around four years old. She is then not “put out to pasture” to live the remainder of her life free from exploitation. She is killed.

Some cows succumb to such extreme conditions. They become too weak to stand, and are known as “downers.” These animals are dragged by chains and tractors or shoved by bulldozers to “the dead pile,” where they languish until they die.

Let’s also make sure we “get real” about the health consequences of cows’ milk. Let’s stop promoting it as a “healthy,” “wholesome” food, because the truth is that dairy contributes to everything from osteoporosis to heart disease.

By all means, let’s get real.

Cows don't give milk unless they've given birth.Let’s stop misleading the public with massive advertising campaigns promoting “happy cows,” and milk cartons depicting dairy cows grazing in rolling pastures. Let’s call milk production what it is: institutionalized rape, the theft of a mother’s children, extreme confinement, pushing bodies until they break, and death by slaughter. Let’s stop calling cow’s milk “wholesome” when research consistently draws a different conclusion.

Yes indeed, America: let’s get real.

Investigations into dairy and veal farms are below. If you want to “get real,” have the courage to watch them.



Herd Around The Barn, Your Diet, Our Future