Do you know where milk comes from? Sure you do – from cows! Do you think cows are some kind of special mammals that produce milk every day? I never really thought about it, but I suppose that is what I used to think. And many people think that is how it works. But cows are not special mammals, they are ordinary mammals like human beings.
How does a person produce milk? A woman gets pregnant, gives birth to a baby, and then produces milk for her baby.
A cow gets pregnant, gives birth to a baby, and then produces milk for her baby.
The difference between a human and a cow is that the human mother gets to keep her baby. The cow’s baby is taken away from her after one to three days. The calf is then fed a milk replacer and sent to the veal farm. Veal is baby cow, some calves are slaughtered at one month old, some at 20 weeks old, some at 26 weeks old. That is 6 months old.
Fifty percent of calves are male. Only a few are allowed to live – they are used for breeding more dairy cows. The rest become veal. The female calves grow up to become dairy cows and their term of service begins at about 13 months of age.
As for the mother, well, how would you feel if your baby is taken away from you when it is three days old? That is how the mother cow feels. Cows have emotions; if you have a dog or a cat you know that animals can feel fear, sadness and anger. Having her calf taken away is very stressful for the mother, and her body, which is already full of hormones from the pregnancy and birthing process, is now producing stress hormones as well.
The cow produces milk that is now pumped from her udder by machines. Her milk production peaks at around 60 days after calving. Then she is bred again, by artificial insemination. 300 days after she has given birth she stops being milked for 60 days. Then she gives birth again, approximately one year after her last birth. And the cycle repeats.
Technically this process can be repeated 10 times, but in today’s dairy industry, there are usually only three cycles.
Diseases are common when cows are treated this way. Infection and foot disease are the most rampant maladies. Hormones are routinely given to improve fertility and to synchronize a herd of cattle to ovulate simultaneously. 17% of dairy cows in the US are also given growth hormone to increase milk production. Growth hormone is banned in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
How about organic milk?
Cows on organic dairy farms who receive antibiotics must be removed from the herd and their milk cannot be sold. They also do not receive growth hormone and they must be fed organic feed that is grown without pesticides.
The process of obtaining milk from cows is no different on an organic farm than on a conventional farm. Pregnancy, birth, removal of the calf, milk, inseminate…lather, rinse, repeat.
A cow has a lifespan of about 20 years if left alone. A dairy cow on a farm lives to be about 4 years old, then she is sent to the slaughterhouse. Her meat isn’t very good since she is not a cow raised for high quality beef, so most likely she will become a hot dog or bologna.