Millions of Babies Are Being Stolen From Their Mothers. Does It Only Matter When They Look Like Us?

Watch this baby fight to get back to his mother.

“It would be funny,” writes Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, “if it weren’t so sad – to continually witness how desperately we try to paint a happy picture of what is inherently violent and utterly unnecessary.

Exploit females’ reproductive systems and breed them at our will, but look! They’re happy! Take away their babies, but look! They’re happy! Take the milk of the females and kill them when they’re no longer “profitable,” but look! They’re happy!

The nutrients we need are plant-based; we get calcium from cows’ milk because they eat calcium-rich greens. We can stop going through the “middle cow” and go directly to the source ourselves: calcium-rich greens.

And we skip the saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, animal protein, and lactose, which we’re not supposed to be consuming into adulthood anyway! We’re supposed to be weaned – just like the calves get weaned – and move onto solid foods. We don’t drink our own human milk into adulthood, and we – just like every other animal on the planet – have NO physiological need for human OR non-human milk once we’re weaned.

When we stop trying to go backwards and actually move forwards, we’ll stop seeing desperate attempts to make the ugly palatable. I look forward to that day.”

Dairy Farming is Based On The Destruction of Motherhood

Profitable dairy production depends on a constant cycle of forcibly impregnating cows to keep them at peak lactation, then taking away the calves for whom the milk is intended, typically within the first few hours of birth. Yet researchers who have studied cow-calf relationships in semi-wild herds and in domestic cattle observe the same pattern: the strongest and most lasting social bonds among cows are between mothers and their offspring, and these relationships persist long after the calves have matured.

In both domestic and semi-wild herds, cows consistently prefer their daughters and sons as grazing companions for many years.

“The birth of a second, third, or even fourth calf failed to disrupt the close association between the cow and her older offspring.”

These same researchers have found that merely five minutes of contact between a cow and her newborn calf is sufficient for the formation of a strong maternal bond. Calves who got to spend only 24 hours with their mothers continued to recognize and uniquely respond to recordings of their mothers’ calls. Here is a cow calling for her calf who has just been taken away.

“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. The mother was allowed to nurse her calf but for a single night. On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn – only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth – minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days – were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.” —Dr. Michael Klaper

Desperate Excuses for Exploiting Mothers

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them.” — Thomas DeQuincey, 19th century essayist

Like human mothers, cows carry their calves in the womb for nine months and form strong emotional bonds with them. Yet the USDA reports that 97% of dairy calves are removed from their mothers within the first 12 hours of birth. The rest are taken within a few days. Many calves on humane label dairy farms are taken from their mothers within the first hour, as separation is supposedly less stressful the less mother and calf are permitted to bond.

Female calves spend their first six weeks to two months of life isolated in lonely hutches with none of the maternal care or nurturing they crave. Male calves are sold to be slaughtered for veal or cheap beef. The cruel veal industry only exists as a result of the dairy industry.

People sometimes defend the exploitation of cows for dairy by saying things like, “The maternal instinct has been bred out of dairy cows. Some will not feed their babies properly or will even ignore them entirely. I once saw a cow fall on her baby and crush him. We’re protecting the calves by taking them away from their mothers.”

These arguments are not only completely disingenuous, they’re illogical. If we follow their premise to its natural conclusion, then we would be forced to note that many human mothers are careless mothers, neglectful mothers, abusive mothers — and many human mothers even deliberately kill their babies. (1)

If the existence of instances of poor parenting or the killing of babies by some farmed animals is an excuse to enslave, confine, and exploit billions of farmed animal mothers (and to steal their babies), then, since so many human mothers neglect and kill their babies, are we also justified in exploiting all human mothers and taking their babies away to harm them?

If not, then this line of reasoning doesn’t bear up.

Farmed animals care about their babies and are good mothers despite the fact that some may ignore or accidentally injure their babies, just as most human mothers are good mothers despite the fact that many human mothers neglect and even intentionally kill their own babies.

It is always wrong to exploit the motherhood of any creature.

You can withdraw your support from the cruel and unjust dairy industry by living vegan. Visit our Guide to Going Dairy Free for tips on delicious plant-based milks, cheeses, yogurts, creams and more. And visit our Dairy Factsheet to learn more about the dairy industry.


(1) Infanticide, and more specifically filicide (the killing of a child by a parent), is a phenomenon that has been a part of every culture in human history, and is one that continues to be practiced on a horrifying scale. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of female babies are the victims of filicide every year in cultures where the birth of girls is devalued. And in the U.S., nearly 3,000 children are killed by a parent every year, according to a new study in Forensic Science International. Of those, nearly 75% are under the age of 6, and 1/3 are infants.

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About Ashley Capps

Ashley Capps received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her first book of poems is Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. The recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she works as a writer, editor and researcher specializing in farmed animal welfare and vegan advocacy. Ashley has written for numerous animal rights organizations, and in addition to her ongoing work for Free from Harm, she is a writer and researcher at A Well-Fed World. For more information on her poetry or advocacy writing, please visit her website. She also runs the vegan facebook page Make Compassion Consistent.

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