The Milk of Human Unkindness
From Mainstream, Volume 27, Number 2, Summer 1996

The Milk of Human Unkindness

By Tina Perry

The sun is shining, birds are singing, and the air smells sweet in the field. A calf is born, coal black with snow-colored markings. She has a big white star on her forehead. Her eyes shine with the glory of new life. The newborn calf struggles to her feet and wobbles to her mother to sip a few precious drops of milk.

Within hours the calf is torn away from her dam. She is fed milk from a bucket, and kept in a small crate with little or no companionship or warmth from other animals. The plastic tag that pierces her ear identifies her as number 1016h. She is a replacement heifer, a replacement for dairy cows that are no longer of value. Despite her new living conditions, she survives, growing stronger each day.

At four months of age, when she is able to eat hay and grain, she is placed in a pasture with other heifers. She runs and plays and enjoys the outdoors. She is still pretty, her coat is shiny and she is proud and healthy. When she reaches breeding age at around twelve months, 1016h is bred by a bull or artificially inseminated with the semen of a prize bull. The semen is plunged directly into her uterus. Breeding occurs 6-12 months before her body is even structurally mature enough to be considered full-grown. Nine to ten months later she gives birth, perhaps with difficulty because she was bred too young in the first place. Within 24 hours of delivering her calf, she and her newborn are separated from each other. They moo and bellow for hours in agony over their loss. They will never be reunited.

Happiness Ends

Once she "freshens" (delivers her calf and starts producing milk), this "first calf heifer" is moved to a "dry lot," where she and one or two hundred other cows stand on hard ground (packed dirt or concrete) and eat highly concentrated feed that upsets their digestive systems and inhibits their natural ruminating process. There is no shelter in the dry lot. No barn provides protection from the freezing rain or shade from the scorching heat. Here and now, what little happiness and contentment 1016h may have known comes to an end.

Next stop is the milking barn, a place she will be forced to go to two or three times a day, regardless of weather conditions, ten months of every year. Here she will be slapped, prodded, and hosed off. Her udder will be attached to a loud milking machine that strips her dry of her milk and, because of stray voltage, gives her intermittent shocks. After each milking she is returned to the hard surface of the dry lot, to eat more feed that upsets her digestive system, and to be pushed around by other cattle because there are too many animals in too small a space.

Within 60 days of her calf's delivery, or on some farms during her first estrus, 1016h will be bred again so that she can produce milk for at least ten of every twelve months. Generations of selective breeding, driven by the desire for higher financial gain instead of the needs of her species, have enabled her body to produce milk in far greater quantities than she would require to nourish her young. Instinctively responding to the demands placed on it, her body diverts all its energy to producing this valuable, white liquid that is no longer needed to fulfill its biological purpose of sustaining her offspring.

Demands Take Their Toll

As time passes the demands of factory farming begin to take their toll. 1016h is very thin and has little energy. Her stomach is constantly upset. Her legs ache from standing always on concrete. She is tired of fighting the other cattle for food. Her coat no longer glistens. There is no sparkle in her eyes. All this and more, have been milked out of her as a result of human greed. Still, she trudges on ...

Finally, when she is four or five years old she gets an inflammation, an infection in the front right quadrant of her udder. She has been milked too dry for too long and her resistance is low. She is sick, she runs a fever. She lies by the fence and gazes out into the pasture filled with young heifers who have yet to be confined to the dry lot. If cows dream and longings impose themselves upon such dreams, her fantasies might include being free of the milking barn and free from the pain of giving birth to yet another calf that will be forced to suffer a life such as her own. She might visualize herself nurturing and suckling her calf, rather than being forced to deny even this most basic instinct. Although she is treated for her udder infection (mastitis), her will to live is gone and her health continues to decline.

Rather than spend any more time or money on this cow, 1016h, that was once one of his "best milkers," the dairyman loads her in the trailer and takes her to the auction yard. She is sick with fever from the mastitis and frightened of all the strange cows and loud noises. She is unloaded into a pen with other sick, tired, and dying cows known as "cull" or "butcher" dairy cows. She can see and smell their fear. Her fate is sealed. She is pushed into the arena with dozens of people staring at her. She is sick. She is weak. She is scared. She shakes when she walks. There is loud yelling and someone is twisting her tail to make her hurry, but she is too ill and too tired to care. She is sold for 33 cents a pound and roughly loaded onto a huge truck fitted with "used up" dairy cattle like herself.

Flesh for the Flesh-Eaters

She is transported to the slaughterhouse, where the smell of death fills her nostrils and her heart swells with terror. She has given her entire life to humans. She has endured a life of production that played no role in the interest of her own needs. She has provided milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese. Now she will provide hamburger meat. Flesh for the flesh-eaters.

A whole day passes without food or water for her. Then she is forced into a chute and cannot move while a man places an instrument against her forehead, right on the star that used to shine so brightly, between yet above her big gentle brown eyes. The instrument feels unnaturally cold, and she trembles with fear as the captive bolt explodes from the gun, tearing through hot flesh and solid bone to rupture her brain. The stem of that brain, still functioning in its last moments, draws in her final, shuddering breath.

If she has one concluding thought prior to that final invasion of tempered steel, it might well be a question of the fairness of betrayal by those who have profited from all that she produced when she was younger, stronger, more able. She lived and died in the service of a ruthless force, having never even been given the dignity of a name. Her body, still warm from life, is quickly and efficiently butchered into parts and pieces to be tabulated into inventories. She is only a statistic. She is just 1016h and now she is gone.

What API Is Doing

The story of 1016h is not unique. Daily, millions of dairy cattle suffer because they are treated only as ambulatory factories for milk and meat, with little or no regard for their emotional needs, physical comfort, or dietary requirements.

What can be done? So long as animals continue to be used for food and fiber, abuse exists. In the long run, full reforms necessarily require overwhelming adherence by humans to a vegetarian diet and life style. In the short run, API recommends that people cut down their consumption of dairy industry products, and works to improve conditions for dairy cattle.

API's current investigation into the dairy farming industry continues to uncover varied and widespread abuse. Our initial findings confirm that some of the suffering of dairy animals will be reduced if the following improvements are made:

  • Provide shade and shelter, especially in "dry lots."
  • Improve housing for calves so they are protected from the weather, have room to move about, and can interact with other calves.
  • Make sure inclines and ramps aren't so steep that cows lose their footing and injure themselves.
  • Keep all surfaces dry, well drained, and clean.
  • Provide more roughage (hay) for cattle to stabilize rumination.
  • Provide quality hoof care.
  • Educate dairy farmers about more humane alternatives to current dairy practices.

In addition to campaigning for the reforms listed above, API will work for legislation that will improve protection for dairy cattle and all animals used for food and fiber.

How You Can Help

Dairy animals continue to suffer so long as we, through inaction, silently condone abusive dairy farming practices. You can help in one or more of the following ways:

  • Decrease or eliminate dairy product consumption.
  • Decrease or eliminate meat from your diet.
  • Check out our fact sheet on The Destructive Dairy Industry. Use it to educate yourself, your family and friends about the suffering dairy cattle endure daily.
  • Take a look at your local dairies. If they offer tours, take one. Note the conditions you see there and tell API.
  • Support future legislation that will improve conditions of food and fiber animals. API will continue to inform you of this and other proposed reforms.