The Spiked Nose Ring: A Symbol for All Dairy Cruelty

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; the rest are taken away in the first few days. This separation is devastating for both mother and calf. (1) 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, especially children. Got… misinformation?

Although most dairy calves don’t get to stay with their mothers long enough to be forcibly weaned with nose 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 2 or 3 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 frequently affixed to the offending calves to prevent them from suckling other calves in the absence of a mother.

Some 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. Check out our Guide to Going Dairy Free for delicious 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.

(1) USDA, Colostrum Feeding and Management on U.S. Dairy Operations

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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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  24. consumption of dairy products is not the only thing that makes humans fat.
    Look at the foods in a store…….chemically created, treated, grown, processed, etc…..

    there’s so many things that cause a human to be fat, including our own body’s…thyroid, metabolism. 1 thing is not at fault. but easy to blame

  25. It is not cruel. the calf having a nose “ring” is no more cruel or barbaric then humans wearing them or piercing their baby girls ears after their born to help them appear to look more like a girl (which doesn’t work). The ring is nusance to the calf & mom but isn’t cruel.
    at least he’s been able to stay with his mom, which most don’t get that opportunity to begin with. And neither are hollering out for each other either.
    And to the one that says the mammals create milk suitable for only their young is wrong. If that were true then more human mothers would be able to safely & properly nourish their own children & many can not. Goat’s milk however is designed/created to be able to be consumed by other animals & human baby’s safely. Their milk is the easiest for any species to digest safely. While momma’s should be allowed to feed their own young….sometimes it can’t happen… either they starve to death slowly or theirs intervention.

    • KS, If you are going to make a comparison to humans, then why not make it an accurate one? Inserting a huge nose ring on an infant thereby preventing her from suckling on her mother’s breast and causing her mother’s breast pain when the spikes poked her teat would be the proper comparison. The nose ring on cows sabotages motherhood and frustrates both the calf and the mother in the same way it would for a human mother and infant. But we would never do this to humans would we? Wht would you even try to defend this?

      • If we accept that humans will continue to drink cows milk, and therefore that the dairy industry will continue to exist, we must accept that a nursing calf (especially a bull calf) does not help the farmer (or the consumer) in any way unless the calf is a herd sire candidate.

        So, we can pretty easily deduce that the bull calf in the video is going to be kept alive (a rare privilege among dairy bull calves). In this respect alone, the relative cruelty of weaning this calf is far lower than certain death.

        Further, the “nose” method of weaning is by far the most humane method I know of. It allows the mother and calf to stay physically near each other for comfort. The advantage of this becomes immediately clear if you witness the traditional weaning method, which is to physically separate the cow from her calf using a fence or multiple fences. If they can’t see or hear each other, they will spend several days and nights bellowing for each other, and if they are able to hear each other, they will injure themselves attempting to crash through the fence(s). Neither will sleep for days as they attempt to reunite. I’ve seen both methods, and it’s clear the trauma of nose-weaning is probably 10% (or less) the trauma of the fence method.

        So all in all, if you accept that the dairy industry exists (as it clearly does), the video above actually shows the best possible outcome for this bull calf (short of natural weaning, which makes zero economic sense and simply won’t happen in dairy farming). If you really want to pity an animal, witness what happens to the other 99% of dairy bull calves. Shouting “cruelty” over this video is a little over the top, to be honest.

        And yes, before I get flamed, I completely get that if everyone in the world suddenly (or eventually) becomes vegan these practices will stop, but only because this calf would never exist in the first place — not because farmers would suddenly become “nicer” to their animals. So the choice is really between a ‘cruel’ existence or no existence at all, right? Who are we to decide which is better?

        • The existence of an institution does not imply acceptance. American slavery existed, indeed slavery existed throughout millennia, without being accepted by those enslaved and even by many who believed it was wrong. The suggestion that we should accept the existence of the dairy industry as a given because the world won’t go vegan overnight is a kind of cause and effect fallacy. No one expects that the world will go vegan overnight. And no vegan believes that the world will even move assertively in the vegan direction by those like yourself who continue to rationalize practices like nose rings, which if practiced on human beings would constitute torture and perversity. The world will not even move incrementally to veganism when there are people who defend “kinder, more gentle forms of exploitation rather than denouncing it and promoting all of the excellent alternatives to animal based foods, pointing to the growing market of plant based alternatives. If one believes that exploitation and violence is wrong on principle then they oppose dairy farming. And they can follow through on that belief by making daily food choices that reflect that belief.

    • 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 they are indeed so natural, then why does the dairy industry have to use such extremely unnatural practices to extract the mammary gland secretions from cows? What’s natural about artificial insemination — the process of forcibly inserting bull semen deep inside the cow’s vagina while positioning the equipment through an arm in her rectum? What’s natural about forcing bulls to ejaculate using an instrument called an electroejaculator? What’s natural about the use of the constraining device that the industry calls a “rape rack” that is used to perform artificial insemination? What’s natural about an animal’s udders being hooked up to computerized milking machinery? What’s natural about manipulating the reproductive systems of female cows through genetics to get them to produce 6 to 9 times more milk than their bodies were designed for (1)? 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? What’s natural about stripping the calves away from their mothers at birth and forcing them to live in isolation or just killing them immediately if they are unmarketable as veal? What’s natural about feeding their calves raised for veal a diet that makes them anemic and malnourished? What’s natural about inserting a spiked nose ring in a calve’s nose to prevent him from suckling on his mother’s udders? What’s natural about consuming the breast milk of another species intended for their own calves, into our adulthood, when even that animal’s own offspring are weaned off of their mother’s milk by the first year? What’s natural about drinking dairy milk when most of the global population can’t even digest or tolerate it? What’s natural about dying from a heart attack or stroke at 50 because our arteries are so clogged with cholesterol? What’s natural about forcing our children to consume something their bodies were never designed for, causing asthma, allergies, rashes, and juvenile diabetes? What’s natural about forsaking our compassion and harming other animals not because we have to, but just because we can? – See more at:

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  28. I LOVE all of your work so much Robert! I share as often and as far as possible as much as possible!

  29. That guy needs a nose ring that reads “I am an idiot!” So sad.

  30. What a cruel practice!! I am glad ro have read this post because I saw some calves with rings in my country too ( France and Normandy) and was wondering what they are for.
    The ones they use here are just plain round rings , not spiked, but probably as painful.
    I hope we’ll be able to stop industrial farms and dairy industy to start with. THERE IS NO WAY EXPLOITATION CONTINUES THIS WAY!!!!! TOO MUCH SUFFERING!!
    I think from what I see that cows are treated with a maximum of cruelty in USA, and if here it is far from perfect, at least it is a little more humane. But in USA more and more people turn vegan, and production of vegetarian food is increasing Beautiful!!!
    In France you can’t even mention you love animals and don’t eat meat… if you do you’re considered nuts. Keep fighting and reporting, your writings are great!!!

  31. I couldn’t watch the entire video. I come from New Zealand where Dairy Farming keeps the economy alive. I have lived next to, known people and witnessed the practices of the Dairy industry. Dairying and Beef and Sheep farming has built NZ but NEVER has any farmer EVER had to use a contraption such as this. The suggestion of it would probably make a NZ Farmer laugh. I am not condoning current farming practices but the idea of denying an infant its basic right to feed and bond with its mother is sickening. To be honest, the amount of milk the infant might drink is probably as much or less than what the Farmer would wash down the drain whilst cleaning the tanks after every milking. I mean, COME ON!!!!!!

    • Economies were “kept alive” by human slavery the same way they are now fueled by the enslavement of non-human animals. That’s not a justification for enslaving and exploiting anyone, and especially not for flesh and secretions we do not even need.

    • Nature designed cows and all other mammals to produce breast milk that is perfectly formulated only for their young. In fact no two are alike. We engineered cows to produce far more milk than their bodies were designed for. We’ve orverbred, crossbred and genetically manipulated animals so we can control their bodily secretions and flesh development for human consumption and commodification. There is nothing natural about this process or this industry. It relies completely on the manipulation of the female reproductive system.

  32. Ive never heard of such a thing its so barbaric and just heatbreaking to watch that baby cow trying to get that nasty painful thing out of his nose and to see him continue to try to get some milk from mom yet he cant just kills me the absolute worst part is hearing that man care more about harming the Mother cows udders not because he didnt want her to hurt but because he didnt want to slow down her milk wheres the compassion wheres the empathy or concern for anythhing other than money? I dont even have the words evertime i think farmers cant get any lower they DO!

  33. Ok I just watched the video. I didn’t want to but I did. I hope that dairy farmer is stricken with a horrible terminal disease. How can he watch and not care? How could he be so heartless?

  34. I did not know about the spiked nose ring. How barbaric! Jesus. What is WRONG with these people. This is modern day Spanish Inquisition torture methods. These poor animals deserve so much more.

    BTW, have you noticed how fat and bloated dairy drinkers/eaters are? The women around me bitch and moan about wanting to lose weight, while they continue to consume vast amounts of dairy products — never connecting the dots that the dairy is what is making them FAT, even the so-called “fat free” is making them fat.

    Cow’s milk is for baby cows. Not humans. Wake up people!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Girrlearth, they do know that they don’t need this milk. Just like they know they don’t need flesh to eat…the fact is they like it and taking away something that they like, well it is to hard for them!

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