Cows are incredible, affectionate creatures, often described as giant puppy dogs. They are able to learn a variety of new tasks rapidly, as well as possessing a range of personality traits such as shyness, bravery, and sociability.

Cows suffer horrifically in the dairy industry, caught in a cycle of continuous artificial breeding, being separated from their calves and eventually being slaughtered when their milk production inevitably slows with age. As well as the harm that the cattle raising industries have on cows as individuals, it also has a significant negative impact upon our environment, emitting more CO2 emissions than any other animal farming sector. The promotion of dairy is also problematic, failing to recognise that many marginalised ethnic groups experience lactose intolerance, leaving them especially vulnerable to poor health after consuming dairy. 

Breeding

The dairy industry practices unnatural, artificial breeding in order to have significant control over the genetics of their herds and save feed costs on keeping bulls year-round.

Semen is collected from bulls through the use of ‘electro-edjactulation’. This involves forcing a vibrating rectal probe into the anus of the bull, stimulating the bull until he involuntarily ejaculates. When bulls are no longer considered economically viable to farmers they are sent to slaughter.

Cows are restrained, unable to escape when they are artificially inseminated. The farmer forces their arm into the anus of the cow, holding her cervix in place, whilst they push a ‘gun’ containing the semen through her vaginal opening, depositing the semen into the body of her uterus.

Cows are forcibly impregnated once every year; they have a gestation period of 9 months, which means after giving birth their bodies are given a break of only 3 months before they begin another pregnancy.

Calves: separation

A dairy calf who has been separated from their mother, suckling fingers for comfort. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

After carrying their babies for 9 months, cows have their calves taken from them within hours of their being born. Research has revealed that this separation can cause distress, pessimism and even deep sadness for calves. There have been countless reports of cows bellowing out for their calves for days, even weeks, after they are taken from them. Cows have been documented chasing the vehicle that is used to take their calves, in a hopeless effort to stay with them.

Calf restrained to calf crate. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Three quarters of the female calves will be raised to become ‘replacements’ in the dairy herd, some with use of “calf crates”.

Calves: slaughter

A ‘bobby calf’ is defined as a newborn calf who is less than 30 days old.

Male bobby calves will never be able to produce milk; consequently, they are largely considered to be waste products of the dairy industry. With the exception of a small number kept for breeding purposes or to be raised for veal, all male bobby calves are killed within their first week of life along with one quarter of female calves, who are not required as ‘replacements’ in the herd. 

A calf in the holding pens of a slaughterhouse.

It is estimated that as many as 700,000 bobby calves from the dairy industry are killed in Australia every year. Some calves are sold off to slaughterhouses, however some farmers kill bobby calves on-site. Legally acceptable methods of killing bobby calves include the use of a captive bolt pistol, firearms and blunt force trauma to the head, meaning calves can legally be killed by being smashed in the head with a hammer, metal pole or rock.

Bobby calves in the holding pens of a slaughterhouse.

There have been a number of investigations revealing the abhorrent treatment of bobby calves in the dairy industry, debunking the myth that anything ‘humane’ happens to them along the way:

  • ‘Cow Truth’ – Animal Liberation Victoria, including footage from Benalla slaughterhouse in Victoria
  • Drop Dairy‘ – Animal Liberation & Animal Liberation Tasmania, including footage from Cressy slaughterhouse in Tasmania and Cedar Meats slaughterhouse in Victoria
  • Strathalbyn slaughterhouse, South Australia – Animal Liberation
  • Riverside Meats slaughterhouse, Echuca, Victoria – Animals Australia

Mothers

A dairy cow waiting to be milked.

The modern day dairy cow is a result of extensive selective breeding and genetic manipulation in order to produce the most milk possible, around 20-40L per day. Dairy calves only consume around 5-10L of milk daily. The dairy industry uses this as a justification for talking calves from their mothers, claiming mothers are at risk of mastitis because calves do not drink enough. This is clearly ludicrous given that this is a solution to a problem they have created themselves through selective breeding.

Milking

Cows are most commonly milked twice a day, once in both the morning and the evening, however some herds are milked three times a day. In order to milk, cows are hooked up to a large industrial machine called a milking parlour.

It is estimated that as many as one-third of dairy cows suffer from mastitis, an excruciating inflammation of the mammary glands caused by bacteria entering the teat and moving into the udder. Equipment contaminated with mastitis can quickly spread throughout the herd. Milk produced by cows with mastitis is abnormal and can contain higher levels of blood and pus.

Slaughter

The life-cycle of a dairy cow. Source: Voiceless

Dairy cows are slaughtered once this exploitative cycle has taken such a toll on their body that their production slows and they are no longer considered economically viable. Dairy cows are killed around 7 years old, often while they are in calf. Investigations have revealed horrific cruelty imposed on dairy cows in slaughterhouses.

Live export

Every year, tens of thousands of dairy heifers are also exported overseas to be used as ‘breeder stock’ and expand dairy herds. Conditions aboard live export ships are cruel and cows are often deprived of adequate food or water for long periods of time. Further, cows often succumb to respiratory disease, heat stroke and physical trauma, all before reaching their destination. Cows are often exported to countries in which they are afforded even fewer legal protections than in Australia. 

Environmental impacts

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Cattle and the manure they produce emits a greenhouse gas known as methane. Methane is approximately 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than CO2. Over 100 years, methane’s global warming potential is around 25 times that of CO2, which means that just 1 tonne of methane is the equivalent of 25 tonnes of CO2. The animal agriculture sector contributes 40% of the annual methane budget.

Unlike CO2 however, methane breaks down in the atmosphere somewhat quickly, in approximately 8-10 years, whereas CO2 takes hundreds of years to break down in the atmosphere. This means that reducing our methane emissions is a key in quickly halting rising global temperatures. 
Consuming just one 200ml glass of dairy milk everyday contributes a whopping 229kg of GHG emissions, whereas one 200ml glass of oat milk everyday contributes just 65kg in GHG emissions.

Water Scarcity

Producing dairy milk is incredibly water intensive. The worldwide water usage of animal agriculture is a massive 2,422 billion cubic metres (one cubic metre is 1,000L), a quarter of the world’s total water footprint. 19% of this can be attributed to raising dairy cattle.

Consuming just one 200ml glass of dairy milk everyday for a year requires a huge 45,733 litres of water to produce, whereas the same quantity of oak milk only requires 3,512 litres of water to produce.

Eutrophication

The dairy sector is also responsible for substantial water pollution. Cows excrete part of the nutrients that they eat, including nitrogen and phosphate. Runoff from dairy cattle’s waste enters our waterways, causing excess nutrients in the water.

Eutrophication is when a body of water becomes over-enriched with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, causing algae blooms and depletion of oxygen in the water. This results in the death of marine life, and is the cause of oceanic dead zones. 

Human impact

Mental and physical health of slaughter workers

Slaughterhouses are notoriously unsafe places to work in; workers are exposed to intense noise, extreme temperatures, harsh chemicals and bacteria. They also commonly experience work-related upper limb musculoskeletal disorders.

In fact, Human Rights Watch identified meatpacking as “one of the most dangerous factory jobs in America, with injury rates more than double the national average”.

Research indicates that continued exposure to violence in abattoir jobs can cause a person psychological damage. Levels of aggression among meat workers were found to be akin to that of incarcerated populations.

This repetitive killing of animals is even linked to a form of post traumatic stress disorder. Sufferers of PITS, or Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, can experience paranoia, panic, depression and dissociation.

Some abattoir workers even seek help similar to that used to aid war veterans, experiencing high levels of anger, hostility, anxiety and psychoticism. Further, abattoir workers are often immigrants and resettled refugees who often have no other options for employment to make ends meet, their vulnerable situations exploited to work in a job most people do not want to do.

Dairy promotion links to systemic racism

Dairy products have, for decades, been promoted as a healthy source of calcium for humans. This is problematic, not only for the fact that it is simply false, but because many marginalised ethinic groups suffer from lactose intolerance, leaving them vulnerable to having ill-health following the consumption of dairy. The widespread, relentless promotion of dairy as a health food has disproportionate health impacts on people from Asian and African communities.

Alternatives

Oat Milk

Oat milk is slightly sweet, with a consistency akin to that of low-fat cows milk. It is the perfect alternative in coffee, cereals, smoothies or just to drink! Oat milk has higher fibre than other plant milks available, as well as being a good source of protein. 

There is an ever expanding range of oat milks available in supermarkets, that can have huge variations in flavour from brand to brand. If you’re not sold after your first experience with oat milk, you may find another brand has a flavour you much prefer. 

Oatly oat milk is available in major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is another great alternative to dairy milk. It is an excellent source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant. Almond milk is less suitable as an alternative in coffee due to its consistency. There are a vast number of brands that now have almond milk as a part of their range.

Though still much more environmentally friendly than cow’s milk, it is worth considering that almond milk is more water intensive in its production than other plant milks. 

Australian owned almond milk is available in major supermarkets Woolworths and Coles.

Cheese Slices

There is a huge range of plant-based cheeses available to customers in major supermarkets, that serve as a perfect alternative dairy cheese. 

Biocheese slices are smooth and creamy, perfect in toasties, in sandwiches, accompanying crackers atop of vegemite toast or straight out of the fridge. 

Bio cheese is available at major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.

Cheese Block

Sheese mature cheddar has a bolder flavour than some other cheese alternatives, so perfect for those looking for a strong cheddar flavour. It’s great to cut up to enjoy with crackers, grated on top of pasta and in baked potatoes. 

This can be found at major supermarket woolworths and similar cheese block products can be sourced from coles.