Media coverage of the Australian dairy industry has been relentlessly sympathetic to dairy farmers being “milked dry” by various market forces in recent weeks. But it’s time we took a moment to consider those who are really suffering so that we can consume dairy foods.
There must be a discussion about those who have no choice but to suffer on dairy farms. Cows and their calves are forced into an industry that not only abuses but also kills them. We must try to help them.
In a recent article in The Conversation, Melbourne University PhD candidate Gonzalo N Villanueva urges us to remember “the real cost of milk”:
Despite the idyllic image of outdoor farming, several industry practices negatively affect dairy cows. To meet production demands, dairy cows are subject to a continuous cycle of impregnation, induced calving and milking.
Tail-docking and horn removal are routinely performed without pain relief. Lameness is another major animal welfare problem, often the result of environmental pressures, such as tracks, herd size and handling. The average lifespan of a dairy cow is six to seven years, whereas generally cows can live for 20 to 25 years.
In these powerful photographs from Australian photographer Tamara Kenneally, we see the reality behind the image of the “happy cow” that is often fed to consumers by an industry that doesn’t want people to know the truth.
Female cows are forcibly impregnated year after year, often while they’re suffering from painful conditions, such as engorged udders and mastitis.
These mothers grieve with loud, heartbreaking bellows – often for weeks – after their calves are forcibly removed from them so that humans can take their milk for themselves.
Male calves are of no use to the dairy industry, so they’re killed – often when they’re just days old. Female calves will enter the same relentless cycle of forced pregnancy, and their babies will be stolen away from them just as they themselves were stolen from their own mothers.
When their bodies finally give out – many years before the end of their natural life spans – cows are sent to be slaughtered.