Voltaire once wrote, “If we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities,” and nowhere is this principle seen more clearly than in the billion dollar lies and bizarre cruelties of the dairy industry. It is a testament to the power of dairy advertising that otherwise intelligent adults can be made to believe that it is not only natural, but necessary to drink the breast milk of another species. In trying to expose this absurdity, one encounters even more absurd defenses and practices. This video is a perfect example, demonstrating the heartless cruelties visited on animals in the dairy industry, and the elaborate mental gymnastics that dairy producers perform in order to convince themselves and others that what they are doing is somehow okay. Not just okay, even, but wholesome and good, part of an honorable tradition.
Not so much. In this video, the farmer has just affixed a spiked plastic plate to the face of a male dairy calf in order to prevent the calf from drinking his mother’s milk. The spiked weaning nose plate is a variation of the spiked weaning nose ring, both originally invented to wean beef calves from their mothers. On most dairy farms, including small farms, calves do not get to stay with their mothers long enough to be weaned from them; according to the USDA, 97% of dairy calves are permanently removed from their mothers within 24 hours of birth; this separation is devastating for both mother and calf. Since males cannot produce milk, male calves are useless to the dairy industry and are sold to be slaughtered for veal or beef. Veal calves spend their brief lives confined in individual crates or stalls where many are not even permitted to turn around; exercise would develop their muscles, and veal is prized for its anemic tenderness. Female calves are isolated in lonely hutches for the first 2 to 3 months, then raised in group pens, eventually joining the dairy herd as milking cows. Although they long for their mothers, most dairy calves never get to enjoy the warmth, safety and nurture of living with them.
I do not know why the dairy farmer in the video had kept this particular calf, as the dairy farm’s facebook page says they do not keep the male calves (the page also states that female calves are removed from their mothers after two weeks, and raised apart.) Perhaps the males are also permitted to nurse for a couple of weeks before being sold for slaughter. In any case, this farm is a shining example of a small, so-called “humane” dairy farm; photos show the cows grazing beautiful rolling pastures, sleeping in the sunlight, and being petted and admired, with frequent loving descriptions accompanying the photos: “We are rather smitten with these girls.” They all have names.
Yet this farmer is so invested in the lie that taking mothers’ milk from other animals is a reasonable thing to do—a good and valuable service—that he can go from stroking a calf, to forcing a clamp into his nostrils that will cover the calf’s mouth with a plate specifically designed to thwart the calf’s every effort to nurse. And the farmer is so committed to this lie that he can actually say, believing it, that the reason he put the plate on the calf’s face is because the calf “doesn’t need to be nursing anymore.” And what about the grown humans to whom the farmer is selling the calf’s milk? What about the fact that the only breast milk humans need comes from their own mothers, or the fact that mothers’ milk is species specific? Whereas human breast milk contains just the right ratio of fatty acids, lactose, protein and amino acids for human infant development, cows’ milk contains concentrations of hormones and proteins designed to turn an 80-pound calf into a 1,000-pound cow by 1 year of age. Those levels of protein and hormones are not only unnecessary but unhealthy for humans. Got… misinformation?
Although most dairy calves don’t get to stay with their mothers long enough to need weaning rings or plates, some dairy farmers have found another use for these distressing devices. Even in female dairy calves taken from their mothers at birth, the urge to nurse is still so strong that, when they are moved from isolation to group pens at 3 or 4 months of age, many calves will attempt to suckle the udders of other calves. This suckling induces a hormone imbalance in the suckled calves, and damages their young udders. In such cases, a nose ring or plate is often affixed to the offending calves to prevent them from suckling other calves in the absence of a mother.
Some dairy consumers will be quick to point out that there are plenty of dairy farms where weaning rings and plates aren’t used. But the truth is that as long as people believe the absurdity that it is normal or necessary to steal and consume another species of animal’s breast milk, and as long as people believe it is morally acceptable to invade the reproductive systems and mothering of other animals, then cruelties like the one in this video will occur. Because if the lives of dairy cows don’t even matter enough for us to refrain from enslaving and exploiting them for a fleeting pleasure, then on what grounds can their suffering possibly be said to matter?
Add this to the list of atrocities inflicted on animals in the dairy industry: dehorning; tail-docking; udder-singeing; sexual violation; separation of families; slaughter of young dairy cows when their milk production declines; and slaughter of calves, who, in their last moments of life, are still so eager to nurse their mothers that they will suckle the fingers of their slaughterers.
Eliminating dairy cruelty from your diet doesn’t have to be difficult; in fact, it can be down right delicious! Check out our Guide to Going Dairy Free for fabulous plant-based milks, cheeses, creams, yogurts and more.
Also see our feature on the most delicious vegan cheeses we’ve ever had, all made from recipes in The Non-Dairy Formulary. These cheeses can be made in your own kitchen in less than 15 minutes and with just a few ingredients.