Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The lives of beef cattle and dairy cows

Cattle are farmed with one of two objectives in mind; either to produce milk or to produce meat. The two industries are intrinsically linked.

In the UK, beef cattle spend their time between living indoors in sheds during the winter months and outside for the rest of the year. There is however, a fairly broad spectrum within the beef cattle industry with regard to the welfare and quality of life for the cattle. At the least intensive end, the calves are allowed to stay with their mother until they are weaned, at which point they are fed grass until they are heavy enough to be slaughtered; which is usually at two years of age. On the other end of the continuum, calves are taken from their mothers as soon as 12 hours after their birth and are raised in pens on milk replacements and pellets of feed. Usually within their first week of life they are castrated and have the buds of their horns burned off; if these procedures are done within the calves’ first week of life, no anaesthetic is required by law. If they are de-horned at a slightly older age (approximately 2 months), when their horns are more developed, hot irons are used to sever them, with the use of anaesthetic, however, the anaesthetic is routinely left out of the process. To fatten the calves up before slaughter, they are transported to ‘fattening sheds’ and fed high-bulk cereals. The conditions in the fattening sheds are barren and crowded and may or may not have straw covering the slatted concrete floors; the cows often find it difficult to stand and become lame as a result. Before they even reach sexual maturity, they are sent for slaughter; at approximately 10-12 months of age. Increasingly, slaughterhouses have become larger, but fewer, as industry has become more condensed. As a result, cattle are transported great distances prior to slaughter, which serves to add to the stress they must endure, as well as adding to the spread of disease. Once arriving at the slaughterhouse, the cattle are stunned (often ineffectively) using a captive bolt pistol before being shackled by the leg and having their throat slit.

In the UK, dairy cows are most commonly kept in pastures during the summer months and indoors in the winter. However, the practice of keeping the cows indoors all year round is becoming more popular; this is known as zero-grazing. Cows naturally produce milk after giving birth; for their children, not for human consumption. However, dairy cows are subjected to the same amount of cruelty as in any other intensive farming system so as to constantly supply humans with milk. Maximum production is paramount to the farmers and therefore, the cows produce between 20 and 50 litres of milk each day; around ten times the amount her calf would suckle.

To take full advantage of the excess milk which cows produce immediately after giving birth, the calves are usually taken from their mothers within the first two days of birth, causing suffering, anxiety and depression for both mother and child, as the maternal bond a cow has with her calf is very strong. Under natural circumstances, the calf would suckle for anywhere between six months and a year. Like humans, cows produce milk for the benefit of their children and therefore only lactate for around ten to thirteen months after they have given birth. The cows are therefore re-impregnated approximately 60 days after giving birth to continue the cycle of milk production. In addition, the cows continue to be milked whilst pregnant; a process which causes them extreme discomfort. Once the dairy cows are so worn out that they have produced all the milk they can, they are sent to slaughter, usually at around four or five years of age; the average natural lifespan for a cow could be as long as 25 years. Their meat often ends up in low-grade burgers or pet foods.

Some of the infants that are taken from the dairy cows are, like their mothers, destined to become milking machines for human consumption and profit. However, approximately half of the calves are male. Some of them are killed as infants for cheap meat; however, as the offspring of dairy cows are not purposely bred for meat, they are are rarely suitable for beef production. Prior to the BSE outbreak, a large number of these calves were transported to continental Europe for used in the veal industry.

You can help by adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. Otherwise, you can buy less meat and dairy products and only buy organic; animals farmed under organic livestock standards are kept in free range conditions and are fed a more natural diet, one which is free from routine or preventative medicines and other chemical treatments.

© Animal Defenders International 2018