Deconstructing the Dairy Is Natural Myth in 14 Steps

How is this natural, again?

How is this natural, again? Photo and graphic by Corin Jeavons.

The dairy industry has most people believing that cow’s milk, and the cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream and other products derived from it, are “natural” for us to consume. But if these products are indeed so natural, then why does the dairy industry have to use such extremely unnatural practices?

1. What’s natural about artificial insemination? Nearly 80% of dairy cows in the U.S. are forcibly inseminated once a year in a crude procedure that involves farmers inserting one arm up to the elbow inside the cow’s rectum to optimally position her cervix, while using the other hand to insert an “A.I. gun” full of semen into her vagina. (1) Rectal violation plays no part in natural bovine copulation, and commonly results in the cow violently defecating, as seen in this clip.

Artificial insemination of dairy cow. Photo: wikimedia commons.

Artificial insemination of dairy cow. Photo: wikimedia commons.

2. For that matter, what’s natural about controlling the reproduction of other animals? Reproductive autonomy is one of the headline agendas of feminists and social justice reformers everywhere, with the rallying call, “My Body, My Choice,” unifying women of different races, economic classes, political parties, and religious beliefs all over the world. Yet, when it comes to animals exploited for their flesh, mothers’ milk, and ovulations, most people, including reproductive rights advocates, are unwilling to challenge or even acknowledge the institution of reproductive slavery in which farmed animals languish.

3. What’s natural about collecting semen from bulls by forcing them to ejaculate using either an “artificial vagina,” or an instrument called an electroejaculator? With the first method, a steer is usually restrained and used as a “teaser” animal to be mounted. The bull is tethered and controlled with a nose ring. After the bull mounts the steer and attempts penetration, his exposed penis is grabbed by a worker and diverted to a long plastic sleeve or “artificial vagina,” held in the worker’s other hand. With electroejaculation, an anal probe is inserted into the bull’s rectum and electric shock applied to the muscles that control ejaculation.

In the following clip, note how both animals are tethered by a harsh metal nose ring as their sexual organs are manipulated by humans:

If you’re unfamiliar with how distressing and painful the process of nose ringing actually is for cows, have a quick look.

4. What’s natural about an animal’s udders being hooked up to mechanized milking machinery in order to steal her lactations and sell them for profit?

Typical milking parlor. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Typical milking parlor. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

5. What’s natural about genetically manipulating cows to force them to produce up to 12 times more milk than their bodies were designed to produce? (2) According to John Webster, Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry at Bristol University, “the amount of work done by the dairy cow in peak lactation is immense. To achieve a comparable high work rate, a human would have to jog for about 6 hours a day, every day.”

6. What’s natural about dairy cow diseases resulting from confinement and overproduction of milk, such as lameness and mastitis, the two most common reasons reported for early death or slaughter of dairy cows? (3)

dairy facts

Photo: Twyla Francois

7. What’s natural about artificially breeding millions of cows only to slaughter them at a fraction of their natural lifespan, when their milk production declines? More than 3 million young dairy cows are slaughtered each year in the U.S. alone, and processed into ground beef. (4)

8. What’s natural about permanently removing calves from their mothers at birth? Whether on factory farms or small farms, separation of cows and their calves is a fundamental practice of dairy production. But cows are devoted mothers, and researchers find that merely five minutes of contact between a cow and her newborn calf is sufficient for the formation of a strong maternal bond. (5) Cows used for dairy search for their stolen calves and often call for them for days.

9. What’s natural about forcing newborn calves to live in isolated hutches for their first months of life, confined without any maternal nurturing; or simply killing them immediately if they are unmarketable as veal? Like their brothers raised for veal, female calves used for dairy are also typically raised in lonely stalls or hutches like the ones on this small dairy farm:

10. What’s natural about feeding calves raised for veal a diet that makes them anemic and malnourished, often unable to walk or even stand when loaded for transport to slaughter? (6)


Photo: Farm Sanctuary

11. What’s natural about inserting a spiked nose ring into a calf’s nose to prevent him from suckling on his mother’s udders? This is a common technique on the few small farms where calves are permitted to stay with their mothers for more than a few days.

12. What’s natural about humans consuming — into adulthood — the breast milk of another species of animal exclusively designed and intended for the animal’s own babies; and when even that animal’s own offspring are weaned off of their mother’s milk by the first year of age?

13. What’s natural about drinking dairy milk when most of the global population can’t even digest or tolerate it?

Lactose intolerance frequencies

Lactose intolerance frequencies

14. What’s natural about forcing children to consume something their bodies were never designed for, a fluid consistently linked with childhood asthma, allergies, ear infections, rashes, and juvenile diabetes? (7)

To learn more about standard dairy industry cruelty, even on small and so-called humane dairy farms, see our feature, 10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.

For tips on delicious dairy-free milks, cheeses, yogurts, creams and more, visit our comprehensive Guide to Going Dairy-Free.


(1) Progressive Dairyman, A.I. Cover Sheaths Improved Fertility in Lactating Dairy Cows, October 2011

(2) Lyons DT, Freeman AE and Kuck AL. 1991. Genetics of health traits in Holstein cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 74 (3): 1092-100

(3) “The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 7/21/2014 from:

(4) “Livestock Slaughter 2013 Summary,” USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014. Accessed 7/21/2014 from:

(5) “The Welfare of Animals in the Veal Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 11/30/2014 from:

(6)  “The Welfare of Animals in the Veal Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 11/30/2014 from:

(7)  “Health Concerns About Dairy Products,” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Accessed 11/2/2014 from:

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  1. All good points. But trying to convince people who have bought into the advertising about the need for dairy products is the problem. Hard to fight big business and “the culture” both. Not suggesting that we give up, though.

    • We’re facing a situation where most people you ask today don’t even know that a cow needs to be pregnant to lactate. We haven’t even really scratched the surface of awareness. We have much work to do!

  2. I work with a woman who flat out refuses to believe the connection between her asthma and dairy — REFUSES! She will not accept any data that clearly outlines the link between asthma and dairy. It is unfounded.

    As I’ve said before, 6 months after choosing a vegan lifestyle (former dairy eating vegetarian) I noticed a remarkable difference in how I felt when I stopped consuming dairy. Now when I look at the dairy, all I see is the suffering of cows and calves.

    Such an egregiuos industry.

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