(Billboard seen on US Route 1 in Revere, MA)
Most of us grew up with a storybook image of cows on dairy farms, lovingly providing humans with milk and spending their days grazing open fields. This fantasy is still perpetuated today in advertisements showing happy cows on rolling fields, but this comforting and idyllic image is a myth. A carefully crafted plan to keep us from seeing the reality behind this inherently cruel, profit-driven industry.
Unless you grew up on a dairy farm or have spent time learning about the issues that farmed animals face, you probably don’t know that cows only produce milk to feed their calves – just like any other mammal. It seems like common sense, but many people carry around this image of cows perpetually producing milk. We don’t stop to think that if we are drinking this cow’s milk, what is the baby drinking? On dairy farms of all sizes, calves are routinely taken from their mothers moments to days after giving birth. While research shows that cows are highly maternal animals with the capacity to bond deeply with their offspring, those of us who have witnessed newborn calves being dragged (many to their death) from their bellowing mothers don’t have to guess what they are feeling. They grieve like us. They love like us. They would do anything to protect their young. But they are helpless to do so, because as long as people consume dairy, mothers and calves will remain trapped in this abusive cycle – it is unavoidable unless people pull their demand and ditch dairy.
Increasingly, different bovine breeds have been selectively bred to maximize production and profits. Dairy breeds now produce many times more milk than natural, increasing profits at the expense of a cow’s well-being. Instead of producing enough milk to feed her young who would nurse throughout the day, a mother cow produces immense amounts of milk and is typically only milked twice a day. This is why dairy cows have gigantic swollen udders and why painful mastitis infections are common, leaving traces of blood and puss in milk. Whereas modern dairy breeds are essentially living, feeling milk-machines, beef breeds have been bred to grow very big, very fast, maximizing the amount of flesh they produce to increase profits.
When a newborn calf is forcibly separated from a mother, if it is a female calf (a heifer) she will likely be bottle-fed or bucket-fed away from her mother, or fitted with a sharp nose ring that prevents her from being able to nurse, and raised to one day join the milking herd. She will most likely be bred very young, leading to many potential complications, and killed after a couple years when her production declines. Her body prematurely depleted from the heavy toll of yearly pregnancies (cows have nine-month gestation periods and are typically artificially inseminated) and high-yield milk production.
If the calf is male (a bull) then he is never going to be able to produce milk, nor will he grow as profitably as a beef calf, so he is essentially worthless to the industry. However, there is one way these bull calves are used to turn some profit, they are used for veal, as are any excess female calves not wanted to join the milking herd. Many people proudly state they won’t eat veal because of the inherent cruelty in keeping a calf in extreme confinement, feeding them an iron-deficient formula to keep their anemic flesh tender, and killing them at only 18-20 weeks old. We don’t stop to realize that veal calves are an inevitable byproduct of the dairy industry. So long as there is a demand for animal-based milk, calves will be routinely separated from their mothers and killed.
This is standard industry practice on all farms. Whether it is the giant factory farm hidden from sight, or the little organic dairy farm on rolling country hills. Many farms prey on our desire to make compassionate choices and our love for animals and they assure consumers that their processes are humane, but this is a myth. There is no humane way to steal a baby from a mother or kill a calf. The process is inherently cruel.
That is why we operate with a different philosophy here at Peace Ridge. We have nearly 300 rescued farmed animals and equines, each of whom we have promised a life of sanctuary. Just as we don’t expect anything from our beloved dogs and cats for providing them with shelter, food, water, medical care, respect and love, we provide the same level of care for all our rescued residents without any expectations or demands on them. This is a place where they can just live. It’s a freedom place. And a vegan place.
Here are Peace Ridge, we are home to 22 rescued bovines. All of our first bovine rescues were of little bull calves who were either seized in state cruelty cases, or required immediate, emergency care to save their lives. In June of 2018 we were asked to take in an entire herd of dairy cows, all dehydrated and starving, some pregnant, others with newborn calves in tow. Calves who otherwise would have been taken from them and killed for veal. We took in the entire herd and the little calf in the picture above is Forest, photographed just hours after his birth with Clementine caring for him. Forest was the first calf from the rescue born here at the sanctuary and he will get to spend the rest of his life with his mother and the rest of their bovine family. On a dairy farm, he would have been separated from his mother and killed for veal.
If you are upset by the reality of the dairy industry like we are, we urge you to join us and the growing number of people ditching dairy and going vegan. Otherwise, cows will continue to suffer and calves will continue to be killed. It is unavoidable so long as the demand remains, but we can pull our demand. Fortunately, there are a growing number of plant-based, vegan milks, creams, cheeses, ice creams, and other compassionate animal-free alternatives to the traditional animal-based dairy products many of us grew up with. You can still enjoy the foods you love without harming animals. How cool is that?