A Small Dairy Farmer Addresses a Vegan’s Concern about Separating Calves from Mothers

calf photo

photo credit: Tamara Kenneally

A small Minnesota dairy farm, Orange Patch Dairy, responds to the question from a concerned vegan: Why do you take the calves from their mothers? Following are key passages from Orange Patch Dairy in quotes followed by my responses.

Farmer: “I had a comment on one of my earlier posts where a concerned vegan had an issue with dairy farmers removing calves from their mothers. I thought about this practice and how misunderstood it actually is.”

The farmer goes on to describe the birthing of a new calf.

Farmer: “Ruthie [a new baby calf] was placed in a freshly bedding stall, where she could be clean and free of pathogens. Just like babies born at a hospital and placed in a nursery.”

The obvious difference here is that the calf will never be returned to her mother, of course, completely unlike what happens to human mothers and their newborns in a nursery setting. The farmer conveniently omitted that little bit of information.

Farmer: “Ruth Anne [the mother] gets time to focus on taking care of herself, instead of worrying about her calf.”

That’s ridiculous. Mammalian mothers have a natural desire to nurse and care for their young just out of the womb and into their maturity as adults. Mother cows have been known to bellow for days and weeks on end after their calves have been taken from them.

Farmer: “Calves struggle to find their mother’s milk and may not get the right amount, right quality or a timely feeding.”

Hmmm. What did these animals do before humans could “help” them nurse their babies? The fact is animals such as these cows have been nursing and raising their young just fine eons before we ever existed. They don’t need us to teach them how to raise their young.

Farmer: “Another issue with letting calves suckle their mothers is an increased chance of infection in the calf and the cow. The calf can receive pathogens from the teats on the cow, since the teats are not properly cleaned. The cow can receive pathogens from the calf’s mouth since it is also not clean.”

Let’s be clear. Infectious diseases are the result of commercial milk production. The problem is not the pathogens. It’s the domestication and confinement of the animals who are forced to produce milk for human consumption. By forcing them to do what does not come natural to them, they are more stressed and therefore more susceptible to infections and disease.

Farmer: “Other possible issues with leaving the calf with the cow are abandonment and injury. Sometimes there are mothers that are not good mothers. It doesn’t come naturally.”

Oh that’s interesting. So being a good mother cow does not come naturally? You forgot to mention that artificial insemination and yearly birthing does not come naturally to these animals either. What would be truly “natural” would be not to be using them at all and letting them live lives according to their own interests, not ours.

Farmer: “Once they deliver a calf, they may walk away, never lick off the calf and move to the feed bunk. The calf would be left to die, cold and wet.”

If you really wanted to help them bond, there are many ways to do so. But you don’t want them to bond. You instead want to break that bond because you want the mother’s milk — the milk that was intended by nature for her calf. One million male calves are disposed of by US dairy farmers each year because they have no value to dairy farmers. It’s ironic that you should blame the mothers, essentially blame the victims, for being “bad mothers” when in fact it is us who are exploiting them.

Farmer: “Sometimes cows, especially other cows, can hit or push around the newborn calf. They can even step on the calf.”

Really! Herbivores are the most gentle of all animals. The only time a cow becomes violent is when you are trying to take her babies away from her. And that’s precisely why we domesticate these animals and not hyenas, for example. They are least resistant to us.

Farmer: “Farmers care for their calves and fresh cows. Calves are the future of our herds-we want them to have an excellent start in life.”

There is no future for the male calves that won’t produce milk for you. They will be either killed for veal or left to die. The only future your female cows have is the extent to which they produce milk for you. And that will end at a fraction of their natural lifespan at which time you will simply send them off to slaughter. You forgot to mention that.

Farmer: “Removing calves from cows is not cruel, its actually in the best interest of both animals, both receive the best care possible. Because our cows always come first!”

How can it possibly be in the interest of any animal who carries her babies for nine months to then be separated from them? It goes against everything we understand about mammalian motherhood.

It sounds like all of the reasons you’ve made here for separating the mothers from their babies, Orange Patch Dairy, are really just feeble attempts to rationalize doing what you want to do with them which is making money on their milk. And you can’t make money on them without breaking up their families.

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About Robert Grillo

Robert Grillo is the director of Free from Harm which he founded in 2009 to expose the food industry’s exploitation of animals and foster greater empathy for farmed animals. As an activist, author and speaker, Grillo focuses awareness on the animal’s experience and point of view, drawing on insights from sociology, psychology, popular culture, ethics and social justice to bridge the gap between humans and other animals. As a marketing communications professional for over 20 years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts where he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. His new book, Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal Consuming Culture, reveals how popular culture uses a variety of fictions that condition us to consume animal products and perpetuate fasle perceptions of animals that make us feel better about exploiting them


  1. Wow. Exploiting female bodies for the benefit of a patriarchal society…When will people put two and two together? It doesn’t matter how many times you tell her you’re sorry for what you’re doing to her… rape and infanticide is wrong.

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  4. interesting story Mfine. unfortunately, it’s very sad that Grandin is often portrayed as caring about animals and their welfare even though she is employed by corporations to design more efficient ways to kill them, and she also consumes their flesh herself.

  5. “Oliver Sacks, who writes about people with unusual neurological conditions, spent some time with Temple Grandin [ http://www.Grandin.com ], the livestock consultant McDonald’s has employed to advise them on animal welfare issues. Sacks was more interested in Grandin’s autism than in her work with animals, but he accompanied her on a visit to a dariy farm. As Sacks describes it: ‘We saw one cow outside the stockade, roaming, looking for her calf, and bellowing. “That’s not a happy cow,’ Temple said. ‘That’s one sad, unhappy upset cow. She wants her baby. Bellowing for it, hunting for it. She’ll forget for a while, then start again. It’s like grieving, mourning–not much written about it. People don’t like to allow them thoughts or feelings.'” – From The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason (p. 58), citing Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars, Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 267.

  6. I asked a friend about the male calves when I was back in New Zealand. She has been a dairy farmer for almost 20 years now (she milks other people’s cows) and is now an Artificial Insemination technician. I had heard that the technology exists to ensure that all AI’d animals (which in NZ is the common and preferred practice) produce female calves. She told me that it does exist but is more expensive and most farmers opt to only inseminate their best cows with female and leave the rest to chance. The male calves are either taken away on live animals trucks or dead animal trucks (a cheaper option). She informed me that, in her opinion, it was better for her (as a technician) to bludgeon the male calves to death (crushing the head with a hammer) as soon as they are born, when the mother is in a ‘confused’ state directly after giving birth. This way the mother doesn’t see her calf alive and we assume that she can accept that the calf was born dead and so not go though the pain and anxiety of separation. My friend informed me that shooting and other methods of killing the calves were not always effective as far as a quick kill goes. She isn’t happy about it but, like so many others, said to me ‘that’s farming’. People in NZ who have not lived on or near a farm, have not seen farming practices and shows on TV, have not known farmers, meat workers or went to school with people who lived on farms are few and far between and the majority of people think that, in general, farming in NZ is OK for most animals (battery farming still exists though) and when compared to the rest of the world maybe it is, but my friend did inform me there are things that go on that people don’t know about (she didn’t elaborate too much), farmers getting angry and killing cows through physical abuse and stories of neglect sometimes come to light also.

  7. The reply I left:
    Just a fascinating set of comments: Mothers who don’t cry for their babies. Babies who love humans over their own mothers. Trucks that “carefully” pick up cows. Packers that “humanely” kill. Just a cascade of nice things happening in the dairy and animal-ag world isn’t it? But truthfully… If the cows did wail for their young… If the babies did indeed desire to be with their mums… If the trucking of cows weren’t all that pleasant… And if the packers — Well… If they botched a slaughter here and there… If something went wrong and the cow was conscious while being dismembered — Would even a whisper of this be revealed by the industry??? Silly question isn’t it?

    You believe what you believe and say what you say because it’s what enables you to do what you do. It would be naive for anyone to think otherwise. What would be your motivation for being truthful? More skepticism from your customer base? More fuel for already active animal advocates? Honestly — There’s not a rational reason in the world to trust your experiences as factual. Perhaps it is faith that you are hoping for?

  8. This man is saying it how -he wants to see it- not how it is,the story of the mother cow and her babies are one of the saddest,she is kept pregnant so her milk is of good quality and her babies are taken from her at birth ,they are left both crying for each other -it would be so pitiful to hear,-animals love and care for their babies as much as we humans do,her life span should be 30years or so instead it is about 5 then she is off to be slaughtered ,I read this story here I think,it was about a cow giving birth and presenting her baby tro the farmer knowing it would be taken from her,they noticed her milk yield was down ,they followed her and found she had had twins and had hidden one so they wouldn’t take it -so sad -what does that tell you ?about animals and their love for their babies and what does it tell you about us humans?.

  9. He says nothing to address why the cow and calf cry out to one another after separation. Will anyone actually believe his nonsense?
    Johnnie Morris, a TV star in the UK who used to present programmes about animals in the ’60’s (Animal Magic) used to work on a farm as a young man, and he remembered in later life how he used to remove the calves from their mothers, and the crying out and bellowing that went on for days, and he felt incredibly guilty about it.
    Also, I once knew a dairy farmer who, when he took his calves to market, they used to call out to him, and he got to a point he couldn’t stand it any more as he felt he was betraying them, and he gave up farming. Unfortuneately, it didn’t cause him to become vegan (or even vegetarian),

    • interesting story Ruth-thank you for sharing. as far as the farmer quitting the dairy business but not going veg, this is yet another case of a human selfishly concerned about their own suffering (i.e. how the crying calves made him feel guilty and therefore bad), while being apathetic to the victims suffering.

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  11. the fact that the author is convinced that cows exist only to serve human desire’s says it all. the slave owner always justifies the slavery of others by stating the necessity, false humaneness, and “obvious” superiority of the owner to the slave to somehow rationalize the exploitation in their own minds. of course, the victims point of view is never a consideration.

    “It makes me sad to be in a world where innocent animals are literally turned into products and ingredients that people can, without even the slightest thought of the suffering and cruelty that went into the making of that “product”, simply toss into their shopping carts at grocery stores. Worse yet are those who see the suffering and cruelty and are made aware and do nothing about it, say nothing about it, or even go as far as to DEFEND IT!” – Sarah Kiser

    • Agreed. I agree with all the comments. Humans will skew anything. These things are allowed to perpetuate due to people who look no further than what’s convenient for them to believe.

      • “In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.” — Ruth Harrison

  12. Right on Robert. Tell it like it is. There is no excuse for what happens to these babies. The reason that they are giving such down right stupid reasons is because, plain and simple, if they told the truth I would hope more and more people would see these wrongs and stop using excuses why this has to happen and will stop EATING THESE INNOCENTS! But until you can get people to stop listening to stupid statements, they will continue to eat them! Shame on us for not using the intelligence that God gave us!!

  13. A mother-child bond is one of the most beautiful and strongest phenomena in nature. To repeatedly break this bond is unthinkably cruel, and to lie and portray it as something virtuous is obscene.

    The dairy industry exploits and trashes motherhood by forcing cows to have babies earlier and more frequently than normal, stealing the newborns from them–which causes great and obvious distress for both the mothers and babies, forcing cows to grossly overproduce milk, and stealing the milk meant for their calves so it can be sold to humans who don’t need it. All the cows on dairies are killed young, some when still babies (veal, bob veal, underweight or sick calves, etc.).

    Dairy is inherently and viciously cruel and the product has been linked to numerous diseases in humans.

    It’s a snap to switch to nondairy alternatives, In doing so, you can still help small local farms, just not ones that intentionally kill and inflict suffering on animals.

  14. The truth is out there about how farmed animals are treated. So the farmers have to come up with propaganda to cover it. When the undercover investigators started showing videos of how bad things really were for the animals, big agriculture asked their states to pass ag-gag laws criminalizng the whistleblowers. I hope there are enough people to fight back, but finding enough who know or care is the problem.

  15. I live around fields of cows, and this *farmer* is full of it.
    Why do beef cattle keep and raise their young outside if dairy cows can’t?
    Beef cattle don’t live long at all, maybe 4 years and in that short amount of time they can take care of their babies perfectly well… a 10 year old dairy cow must learn more over time than a beef cow in 4 years!
    Reproducing is the one true natural thing that is run entirely on instinct. Animals sometimes abandon their young when in a bad situation, like a zoo….
    Also they don’t take away human kids to put them in nurseries anymore even, they learned better! They stay with the mother to bond and be more natural… develop a proper heart rhythm etc.
    The nonsense makes me ill. Just say it like it is and stop making up so much bs. It is the way it is, stories don’t mask anything to intelligent people!!

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