I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian, but sometimes I really wish that I could be.

Especially after today…

A friend of mine had gone to the South Florida Fair and had told me they had baby cows there. When I went a couple of days later, I didn’t see any baby cows. A few days later, I was trying to think of something to do with my one-year old son. It was a windy, overcast day, so I figured I would take him back to the fair. I figured maybe he’d get to see the “stunt dog show” that I had wanted him to see the first time, but he had slept through it.

So, I paid my $15 admission, took my boy to see the show and then decided to look for the “Mooternity Ward” where I could see some cute baby cows. My son had fallen asleep by that point. The “Mooternity Ward” is basically several “stalls” fenced off with cow gates. In each stall is a malnourished, pregnant cow.  You can tell the that the momma cows are malnourished because their toplines lack any muscle tone and most of them are practically lame due to the horrific swelling of their utters, which forces their back legs into an unnatural position. I was horrified by how engorged these poor cows were.  The concept of the “Mooternity Ward” is that if you are lucky, you will get to catch one of these cows giving birth. Sounds cool, right? That’s what I thought also.

I sat there and my first thoughts were… “This is neat. People actually get to see birth as a natural process.” It seemed odd to me that these cows seemed to have more dignity surrounding their births than most humans. They were allowed to move around, eat and drink, get into whatever position felt comfortable to them and they weren’t attached to IV’s, catheters or monitors of any kind either.  Then I began to feel a bit weird…shouldn’t they have some privacy? I mean, for all practical purposes these laboring animals are on display like some kind of spectacle for all to see. In humans, that kind of a lack of privacy can create a much harder, longer labor. It wouldn’t surprise me if it had the same effect on these cows.

While I was there, I noticed that two cows had just given birth earlier that day. The mother cows seemed somewhat apathetic to their babies who lay down in the shavings of the stalls and didn’t stand or try to nurse. Suddenly, a bunch of men backed a livestock trailer up to the tent and they attempted to herd the two momma cows who had just given birth hours ago onto the trailer. One mom had an umbilical cord hanging out of her vagina and the other mom had the cord and the entire placenta still hanging from her body. They were not gentle about putting these cows on the trailer. In my mind, I tried to justify it. I know how difficult it can be to get a horse to load onto a trailer and these cows are HUGE animals. Yet, it was hard to watch. The worst part was that the babies were separated from the moms and they made no effort to try to follow them. I soon found out why. Normal, healthy calves are able to stand and walk just minutes after birth. These calves had to be CARRIED because they were too weak to stand.  A partition was put up between the mother cows and the two calves. A third calf was left behind and he was brought out for display, so that kids could pet him.

I decided to talk to the dairyman and ask him some questions. I was listening as he spoke to some other fair-goer first. Apparently, the calf that was on display was only 5-hours old. His mother had been taken back to the dairy farm. I noticed that this calf was male. As a breastfeeding mom, I couldn’t fathom how a mother and her baby could be separated like this, so soon after birth. I asked the dairyman, innocently, “How long do the calves usually stay with the mother?” He answered, “Not long.” Then I somewhat stupidly asked, “Well, what happens to the babies?” He kind of chuckled, stuttered, paused and then said, “They go to some other farm where a nice lady takes care of them and they go to work.” I could tell by his body language and voice that he was flat-out lying. So, feeling uncomfortable and suspicious, I decided to do some googl’ing and I typed into my phone’s browser, “What happens to the calves of dairy cows?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done it. I mean, ignorance is bliss, right? I had always known that being a dairy cow was far from a great life and I know how cattle are slaughtered and how horrible that is. I have also read A LOT about the dangers of consuming dairy products and how incredibly unnatural it is for humans to be drinking another species’ milk. I love the occasionally beef. I love cheese. And, yes, ice cream and things like that too. So, I am just as guilty as the next beef-eating, dairy-loving individual.

So, here’s the truth…Cows when allowed to live as cows are intended to live…roaming freely and grazing, have a lifespan of at least 25 years. They are intelligent, sensitive herd animals. When a mamma cow gives birth, her calf is completely dependant on her for its survival. A heifer will nurse her calf for at least 2 years before weaning.

In the world of dairy, a female dairy cow is impregnated via artificial insemination as soon as she is about a year old. It is cheaper to buy bull sperm than it is to care for a bull. She is pumped full of fertility hormones and BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone). In some cases, cows are purposely impregnated to create multiple embryos and then the embryos are removed and placed in surrogate cow moms (think bovine IVF).  A dairy cow that is forced to undergo constant pregnancy and these hormones, will produce up to 10 times more milk than a regular dairy cow who will only produce as much milk as is needed to nourish her baby. Breastfeeding mommas...can you imagine having 10 times the milk in your breasts?! How awful that must feel!!! Dairy cows are typically confined in small stalls, so that they can be mechanically milked at least twice per day.  Their tails are docked (half cut-off) to prevent the spread of manure. By the way, this is generally done without anesthesia and research shows that it does not prevent it at all. Instead it takes away the cows natural “fly-swatter,” subjecting them to the painful bites of flies. The pregnant dairy cows at the fair had their tails docked.  To add to the horror, when the mother cow gives birth, she is usually birthing a baby that is far too large for her body. These cows are often cross-bred with bulls known for creating large offspring (for use as beef cows).  Often times, a birthing cow will have the baby mechanically pulled from her body if the baby “gets stuck.”

The calf is typically taken from its mother within 24 hours. Sometimes, they remain with their mothers for up to 3 days. The separation is “required,” to prevent bonding and to allow the dairy cow to get back to work as a milk machine while her milk supply is most optimal. 30-50% of dairy cows, by the way, according to the dairy industry, suffer from mastitis, which any breastfeeding mother who has the misfortune to get a breast infection, can tell you it is extremely painful. How do they treat the mastitis? Antibiotics...and remember, we are drinking the milk and eating the meat of these creatures who have been dosed with massive amounts of these drugs and hormones.

Within 60 days of giving birth, the cow is inseminated again and the process begins all over for her. After 4 or 5 years of this torture, the female dairy cow is sold to slaughter because her body can no longer be forced to produce milk. Because female dairy cows are so unhealthy and “wasted,” they are most often not fit for human consumption. The meat of these cows is used for pet foods, soup or low-grade hamburger meat (think…fast food).

So, what happens to the baby calf? Well, the females are generally taken back to the dairy farm where they will be fed “milk replacer” by a machine. When they are old enough to be impregnated and begin producing milk, they will meet the fate of their mothers. And what of the male offspring?  The lucky ones will be shot immediately after birth and will not have to suffer, but usually this is not what happens. The day old calves are usually sold at auction. If they have potential to be fattened up as beef cattle, they may get to live a short life of fatty food until they are large enough to be slaughtered and end up on a dinner plate.  The majority of male calves meet the fate of becoming veal calves. Veal calves are placed in tiny little slots…about 24” wide, so that they will remain immobile and “tender” for human consumption.  For a few months, they are purposely fed a liquid that is hugely deficient in iron, so that their meat will remain white and tender. They are kept anemic and immobile until they are eventually, thankfully slaughtered to be sold as “veal parmesan.”

So, that cute little calf that was born earlier today at the South Florida Fair that the cow people were so nice to allow all of the little kids to pet…as a male cow…and a small, weak one…

we can pretty much guess where he is going to end up. That “nice lady’s farm where he will be taken care of?” Well, this is what it looks like...