Dairy Farm Visit
I need to rant. I’m in one of those raving lunatic kind of moods, and since nobody is home, it’s the internet’s lucky day. What’s got me so worked up? Asks nobody.
WELL. Today as a class field trip I went to a dairy farm. And first of all I would like to put out a disclaimer that the family who owns the venture is lovely and very generous for letting us tour their farm. As far as the industry goes they are ethical and yadayada… you get it.
But I’m just not down with it. Here’s how it goes.
The cows live in barns. They do not go out to pasture. Much of the feed is grown on the farm including round up ready corn which is used to make silage (fermented grain-kind of smells like sauerkraut.)
The cows are usually artificially inseminated (they wear tags and a computer keeps track of their movement to figure out when they are in heat) and the gestation period, like humans, is 9 months. Cows, in case you didn’t know, don’t make milk unless they just had a baby (duh). The cow is milked for 7 months while she’s preggers and then gets a two month break when she’s about to burst. Then after she has the babe she goes back into the system and is soon impregnated again, that way there is a constant cycle with only 2 months that she will not be giving milk.
So the cows have their baby and then that baby is taken away in under 24 hours and put in a single stall in another barn. At this particular farm (like most in Canada) the females are kept and the males are sent to auction to become either veal or raised for beef.
The female cows who are kept are dehorned so that they won’t hurt the workers or each other. They are sent to a ranch to be raised for about 15-17 months until they are ready to get preggers. At 4 months, elastic bands are put on their tails so that they eventually go numb and fall off. This is for ease of access since they are milked from behind.
Mama cows have about 4 babes per life, averaging a 5-6 year life span. Typically by this point they’ll start having some health issue or another and it’s time to send them off to the auction. (For example, injuries related to slipping on the concrete floor such as torn ligaments. Mastitis is also common.) In case you were wondering (yeah, you were) cows live 20-25 years left to their own devices.
The cows are milked 3 times a day, producing on average 40kg of milk a day. They are milked using this giant mechanized “milking carousel” that essentially slowly spins around and the cows get on the ride and are hooked up to these teet sucker things and a computer keeps track of which cow it is based on it’s tag and moniters all the data etc. That way one person can milk hundreds of cows, three times a day.
In their barn, an automatic poop scraper drags across the floor and pushes away the poop. A fancy machine then separates the fibre from said poop and the fibre is then used for bedding. The rest is drained into a manure pit that emits a butt load of methane before being used in the fields as fertilizer.
Alright. Those are the facts. So why am I so worked up?
Maybe Denise (hypothetical cow) doesn’t want to live in an indoor poop paddock her whole life. Maybe Denise doesn’t want to have 4 babies taken away from her before she’s even finished licking them clean. Maybe she’d rather not spend her life being herded back and forth from the poop paddock to the milking machine only to be killed at the age of 5. Which in human years works out to be about 20.
And it’s all so we can drink something that, from an evolutionary stand point, humans are not meant to drink. Something that we don’t need. (I don’t care what the yogurt commercials tell you.)
I have done a lot of research in the nutrition end of things and stopped consuming dairy for health reasons initially. Since I am no epidemiologist, I will not start preaching, but I just thought I’d throw that out there. It makes me rather angry that dairy is marketed so heavily as a necessary part of a “balanced diet.”
K I’m done.
So where does this leave me. Ranting against my own uni program? No. I am very grateful for having the opportunity to visit the farm and develop my opinions first hand. But clearly my path is being laid out for me. I am still undecided whether I will include animal welfare as an overt part of my university degree, since I often feel that the research leans towards… how do I put this… making the animals we exploit more comfortable in their short life and (hopefully) quick death rather than not exploiting them in the first place. Whether this be within the food industry or animal testing (in which UBC takes part, yet refuses to release any details…. don’t get me started.)
In any case, if you’re still reading, and especially Alisha if you’re marking this, I guess I just wanted to say that I know where my “niche” is. In my program we have to choose a “resource specialization,” so I guess this is it. Whatever “this” is. My life is tumulting is some direction and maybe it’s frustrating as hell but I’ve never felt so revved.
To end on a positive note, here is a picture of a cute calve who will not be killed or exploited for any human purposes….other than awareness….. and adorable pictures. Photo and video courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.