Lets get things straight….

calf black and white

Have you read the  ‘Dairy is scary’ opinion piece from the Guardian? I have, and it has left an exceptionally bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t believe that such a poor piece of writing has been published under the Guardians name- albeit as an opinion piece.  The article  has come about after the publication of a video by the animal advocacy group ‘Animal Equality’. I won’t waste space by leaving a link to it here, if you want to read it , its easy to find. Let me save you the bother- in this blog post I’ve summarised the key points from the article and addressed each one with fact and the views/opinions of a real life dairy farmer. However, if you do enjoy reading  work that contains very little truth and a lot of sensationalism then by all means, go check out ‘Dairy is Scary’.

Some truth about calf rearing…..

The article is based on perceived issues associated with the accommodation of calves on a particular calf rearing unit. For those who don’t understand how the dairy industry works  this is a farm where calves are looked after by calf rearers . These are people whose sole job in life is to make sure that the young animals  are fed, watered and kept healthy and happy.  The calves pictured at this particular unit are housed in individual hutches. These are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They provide good shelter and excellent ventilation. Young calves are susceptible to lung infections and this style of housing helps to significantly reduce the risk of illness. Also it helps to prevent outbreaks of disease if one calf does become ill.

The author is correct in saying that calves over 8 weeks are not permitted to be housed individually. If you read the ‘code of welfare for cattle’ produced by the UK government you can see this is a legal requirement. However there is no proof that the calves shown are over this age limit, and in fact the photo showing a measurement of a calf being taken would suggest they are younger than the 6 months that Animal Equality have claimed them to be. Trading standards have found no issues on the farm.

A bit about the ‘birds and the bees’……

According to Mr Newkey -Burden , dairy cow reproduction is a brutal event.  This is really not the case. Artificial insemination does play a role in the dairy cow life cycle. However it does NOT happen in the way this article purports.

For A.I to occur, semen is collected from a bull but this is not done mechanically as the article suggests. I’m not going into the ins and outs of artificial breeding, but lets say no bulls are hurt in the making of a straw of semen. In fact most stud bulls live the life of riley, cosseted and cared for as befits an animal of their calibre. The average monetary worth of a young bull going to stud is £20,000. When you have this much financially invested in an animal would anybody not want to make sure they have the best care available

Insemination is not a brutal procedure. No farmer will attempt to ‘impregnate’ a cow before they are physiologically ready- it just doesn’t work. It is simple biology- a cow can only become pregnant for a short number of hours during a 21 day ‘reproductive cycle’. During this  period she will show natural behaviours that are a cue to her fertility. Farmers and vets refer to this behaviour as ‘bulling’. Once an animal shows this behaviour, an AI specialist  will inseminate the animal. This can be done without putting the cow into a handling system (Chas refers to this as a cruel ‘crush’) as she will naturally stand to allow the procedure to occur. Again I’m not going into the finer details of insemination.

Sometimes we do use ‘cattle crushes’. This is a colloquial or lay mans term for a cattle handling system. It does not hurt or harm the animal, as this would not help at all. We use them to safely restrain cows that need veterinary treatment or other procedures that require them to stand still. You have to remember cows are very heavy animals (500kg to 700kg for a dairy cow, 1 tonne plus for a bull). They are capable of doing serious damage to a human unintentionally just by moving their head or foot. Over friendly cows can easily knock an adult over going for a head rub!! As an aside a cows foot can accelerate at 10 metres per second squared. That will seriously hurt on contact. In fact it will break things- human bone shaped things.

Lets go milk a cow….. beginners 101.

Milking a cow is not easy. Any dairy farmer who gets up at stupid o clock in the morning every day of the year to do so will tell you this.  At the same time, no one steals milk from a cow, which Chas suggests. If a cow does not want to be milked, you wont get any. We put the cluster on, the cow doesn’t want to let down her milk, empty milk jar. Its a fact. Milk let down requires oxytocin. Oxytocin is a ‘happy’ hormone. Sad cow, mistreated cow; no oxytocin, no milk. Happy cow-content cow-oxytocin- milk let down. Cows come to be milked- each day on our farm, we call the cows to milk, they get up from their bed or come in from the field. No cattle dog, no sticks, they come voluntarily. In some dairy herds milking isn’t done by a human. They use robotic milking machines. These allow a cow to decide when she is milked. On average, a cow will go to the machines 2.8 times a day. Voluntarily. No pressure from a human involved.

Chas states that the Uk dairy farmer needs to rely on antibiotics and hormones to boost milk production. Uh oh, chas failed to get his facts right! This is not allowed. It is illegal! And just to make sure, milk is tested in milk factories to make sure it is drug free.

The article also refers to lameness being caused by large udders. Yet another inaccuracy. Lameness is usually due to poor food, bad conformation (animals anatomy), infection, trapped stones  or bad surfaces that the cow stands on. Lame cows don’t produce milk. In fact, when a cow is ill for any reason her milk production will decline, sometimes to the point of no milk at all.

The author also states that cows which produce large volumes of milk will get mastitis. Mastitis occurs in any mammal that is lactating.. Mastitis, or inflammation and infection of the udder, is caused due to bacteria, yeast or other environmental or infectious pathogens. In other words, bugs. Not milk volume.  Any cow with mastitis on our farm receives immediate attention, with veterinary care if needed.

Separating a calf and cow…

Yes, this happens. Modern domesticated dairy cows are not wild creatures. They produce far too much milk for a calf to take. If a calf were to be left on, the cow’s udder would never be drained sufficiently leaving her at risk of developing mastitis. Mastitis can kill a cow very quickly- in less than 12 hours from first infection.

The calf gets one on one attention when raised by a human, who makes sure all their needs are met. They are fed colostrum from their mums and follow on with milk.

Chas says calves and cows ‘bellow for days’ when separated. This is completely incorrect. Our cows usually return to their herdmates within 24 hours of giving birth. They don’t notice that the calf is gone. They often don’t understand what a calf is. Modern cows are not always cut out to be good mums. Some cows will actively try and hurt their calves if left with them, and can turn violent towards a human that tries to help the calf.

A question of gender…

Chas says, and it seems to be a popular belief amongst vegans and animal rights activists, that male calves are shot at birth and ‘binned’. This is not strictly true. Some farms may have to euthanize calves full stop if they are prevented from moving them to other farms or rearing units due to Tuberculosis movement restrictions. Other farms keep their bull calves, or sell them on to units that rear them on for bull beef or rose veal. Bull calves that go for rose veal go to abattoirs at 10 to 12 months of age. In fact Rose veal farming is backed by the RSPCA.

The death of a cow…

One phrase in the article really annoyed me, and I’m sure others will find it offensive too. Chas referred to cows being ‘dragged off by a tractor’ when they are too ill or old to be milked, or simply ‘collapsing under agony’. Wrong, wrong, wrong again!!! Any cow that is going to an abattoir must be able to walk soundly onto the lorry that is transporting it. It is not legal to transport a cow that is so poorly it cannot walk. If a cow has become very sick or has had an accident on the farm, a vet will be required to perform an emergency euthanasia (which requires a lot of paperwork!).  Chas also makes reference to abattoir slaughter in his piece, incorrectly. Unless an animal is being slaughtered for halal meat (something which I do not agree with) it will be stunned using a captive bullet. This renders the animal completely unconscious.

In conclusion….

One thing I do agree on with the author is consumer choice. Everyone in the first world has an ability to choose which food they eat. Organic, free range, vegetarian, vegan – choose as you will. But make sure it is an informed choice. One that is based on fact and not fiction. Listen to as many arguments as you need to in order to make the right choices. The argument I have made in support of the dairy industry is based on fact and personal experience. The facts have been checked with a dairy farmer who has over 40 years of experience with cows. Hands on, day to day experience of caring for them, reading their behaviour and making sure they are happy.  Farming and caring for dairy cows is in his blood. Quite literally. He is a 7th generation farmer, with his family farming the same area for 243 years. Safe to say he understands a bit about cows and calf rearing.

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72 thoughts on “Lets get things straight….

    • The facts have been checked with a dairy farmer…….oh must be true then.
      Both sides have an argument. Those in the dairy industry are in it for the money, just like with any commodity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, we’d like to make a living. But harming our animals wouldn’t make more money. And, quite honestly, if it was just about making money, there are millions of jobs that pay more for less time and energy. I work in an office so that my husband can continue to farm with the animals he loves.

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      • If dairy farmers were just in it for the money, they would be in a much easier job. They wouldn’t be getting up ridiculously early in the morning to milk, and the wouldn’t be out in all weathers looking after their animals, or up all hours of the night caring for animals when they get sick. I have seen farmers in tears because a cow has died, and not the highest producer either! Not to mention many of them do all this for a loss. So no, they’re not just in it for the money, if they were they would at least find a job that would make them money.

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  1. Hi,

    I haven’t read said article but usually, respect the Guardian’s views on the environment and the like. However, somewhere along the line, when it comes to farming issues, I think the tabloids and broadsheets are truly misguided. Initial impressions count for too much in our fast-paced world, and I’ve watched film on tv of these individual hutch units and thought the same, I simply didn’t like the look of them. Then again, that should be no reason to print a load of mistruths about the industry. As you’re aware, I do not have a farming background and often only visit farms when doing wildlife and bird surveys. You have explained their purpose and usage well and after all, why didn’t the Guardian interview the farming community. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so says my mother and perhaps now is the time to meet the people on the ground, respect them and let them inform the newspapers just how things are from their side of the farmer’s fence. Small wonder, there is divided opinion between urban and rural issues when such tales are built on misinformation.

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    • Thank you Tony. I agree, I used to read the guardian as I considered it a)well aligned with my world views b) good journalism. I will have to rethink now. I hope that the broadsheets at least will start to help balance the story with farmer opinion. It seems that there are a few very loud opposers of farming who are being given column space to fill with inaccuracies and propaganda.

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  2. Well I must say what a good read I have been around and on a few dairy farms not once have I seen any thing but good animal welfare this person needs to be taken and shown the real facts and not relies on here say

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  3. Very well summed up!
    As a photography student, I have been making frequent ad hoc visits to a reasonably sized commercial dairy farm. I have been allowed free unsupervised access into all areas of the establishment at different times of the day and night. Whilst the practices may not seem natural to a layperson like myself, I have never witnessed anything that could be detrimental to the welfare of the animals. Farming is a tough old business and as consumers we are responsible for driving the practices that exist to make it a commercially viable entity. Whilst I may have struck lucky in terms of the farm I picked randomly to document, my experience has been nothing but positively informative.

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  4. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Uh-oh! Someone’s starting to panic. What a load of old shit! No matter how nice you think you’re treating the cows (I’m pretty sure they’d prefer to be left the fuck alone) you are still forcefully impregnating them, taking away their babies, to do something that is not needed at all! I noticed you don’t like to go into the finer details of things, wonder why…
    Can’t believe I used to consume this shit! People are wising up. Insane, hideous industry. Time to get a proper job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • How unfortunate you feel the need to vent your obvious pent-up frustrations and angst in this manner, and in such a childish manner. Have you reached puberty yet? I suggest your knowledge on the subject is actually sweet FA. No, I correct myself. You do know nothing at all that is outside of your own bubble of utopian clap-trap. In fact your post, as with the original opinion piece in the Guardian, is nothing short of propaganda poorly put together in an attempt to grab attention. In fact, it and your comment (yawn) are nothing more than the rantings of self-righteous ideological lunatics out of touch with both humanity and reality. Uneducated, uninformed pantomime journalism at best.

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      • Childish manner? Not reached puberty yet? Out of touch with humanity and reality? How funny, as its you who likes to still breastfeed….from another species! Don’t you think it’s time YOU grew up? Not your mum, not your milk.

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    • Totally agree Emily! You took the words right out of my mouth. Everything about this article makes me angry. The more and more I read it the more worked up I became. And FYI everyone insulting Emily for swearing its because she actually cares about the millions upon millions of cows going through the pain, fear and suffering daily at the hands if the dairy industry. Gloss it over all you like but the fact is you are using another life as a commodity. And that is glaringly obvious from the perspective this article has been written in. The writer shows no real empathy or appreciation that the animals he is talking about are living beings. He dismisses and ignores that they are animals that feel and uses “I won’t go into this here” on all of the parts where someone truly interested in the animals welfare and not the milk it produces, would expand.

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      • “The writer shows no real empathy or appreciation that the animals he is talking about are living beings.”

        I honestly find this statement quite odd. Do you really think it’s possible to work as a veterinary surgeon, or as the owner of a dairy farm and not be aware that the animals are living beings? Every dairy cow has its own personality and the people who handle them every day will get to know them, even if it is done on a large scale. Before I qualified as a vet, I worked quite a lot on a dairy farm. The dairyman would cry when his favourite cows died and he could barely abide going away on holiday because he didn’t trust that the herd in general would be as well looked after when he was away.

        There are, undoubtedly some issues that are rearing their heads in the dairy world. But to accuse the author of not having empathy with the animals in her care is quite a dismissive statement.

        There is room for sensible debate on this subject. But it requires research and understanding of animal behaviour and welfare. Not unfortunate articles like the one in the paper yesterday, which unfortunately was filled with factual inaccuracies. I was very disappointed to see something so badly researched and deliberately sensational given space in a national newspaper.

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    • A very ‘eloquent’ and ‘educated’ comment I’m sure. As you are clearly a facts based decision making lady who has decided to stop drinking ‘shit’ (milk) I’m sure you’ve taken the time to inform yourself and have read the labels on the products you consume.

      Dairy Milk content; Milk, 100% milk.

      Almond plant based alternative to milk (top brand Acti leaf) content;
      Water
      Sugar
      ALMOND (2 % !!!)
      Tricalcium Phosphate
      Sea Salt
      Stabilisers
      Locust Bean Gum
      Gellan Gum
      Emulsifier
      Lecithins
      Vitamin B2 B12 D (added)

      Soya milk reads much the same.

      Although the ‘Faux’ Almond milk containing 2 % actual Almond reads like a deliciously complex treat for the taste buds I think I’ll stick to ‘sustainably produced Dairy Milk from Happy cows’ supporting countless other subsidiary jobs and industries.
      Top athletes including Olympians drink Cows milk to aid stamina and speedy recovery as it’s ‘factually proven’ to out perform ANY other product. Just sayin.,

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      • Actually many people make their own nut milks for the exact reason you stated above. Therefore the ingredients are nuts, water, perhaps agave or date paste for sweetness. If making a special treat then cacao to make a chocolate milk.
        It works both ways… as well as ignorance from some of the more fundamental animal rights people out there, there is ignorance about them from the general population as you have just shown
        For the record, I am a lapsed 100% veggie, who makes her own nut milks and sources ethical meat to eat. I am also a vet nurse who has worked in mixed practice and understands animal welfare.
        The amount of incorrect information from both sides could be eliminated if people stopped being so defensive. I stopped eating meat years ago after visiting a poorly run farm with a vet on a visit. I started eating high welfare meat when the laws surrounding farm animal welfare improved and I wanted to support the move towards better husbandry techniques.
        I appreciate some people have no issue with meat eating regardless of its welfare while alive but some of us do.
        Having said that, sensationalism seems to be the norm for press in this day and age. It is unhelpful in such a divided society and only helps divide us further. 😦

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Great response… so useful to have it all set out. The public are so easily mislead by these guardian-type articles, we need to see more like yours to get the RIGHT information across!

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  6. A few comments on this article. Firstly I am saddened that these pens are considered ‘high welfare accommodation’. Secondly as a fellow mammal who feeds my child I well know the agony of engorged breasts and would seek a pump if my child was not able/ with me to feed. It must be even more uncomfortable for cows bred to yield more milk than their offspring needs. Surely mastitis is not uncommon with so many lactating mammals and with mortality from this a serious problem according to the article antibiotic use must be high. I agree that choice must be informed and I am glad that both sides are finally hitting main stream media.

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    • Thank you for your comments. The pens themselves aren’t necessarily deemed ‘high welfare’, rather the hutches are. Dairy farmers aim to keep the number of mastitis cases in their dairy herds low- from welfare and production points of view. We also aim to keep antibiotic use low- dry cow therapy which is used during the period of the year where a cow is not being milked is part of our strategy to help with this. Again if we used a lot of antibiotics it would not be to put gain- most antibiotics have a milk withdrawal period. This means if a cow that is producing milk receives them their milk can’t go for human consumption for a certain amount of time. Instead it must be discarded. Antibiotics are also very costly, so again counter productive to rely on them heavily.

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  7. “The calves pictured at this particular unit are housed in individual hutches. These are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They provide good shelter and excellent ventilation.”

    This is like the argument that battery cages are good for hens. What’s good for calves is to be looked after by their mothers. What’s good for mothers is to be with their calves. This is a tiny, confined pen, for an animal that would usually run around a field and bond with its mother. You’re creating a situation where such housing is necessary to improve the efficiency and profitability of the farm, not maximise the welfare of the animal.

    Its like when people say they have to cut off pig’s tusks because they will gore eachother. No, they will only gore each other because you are keeping them in an unnaturally sense situation. Same thing with dehorning.

    You create the situation that requires the cruel solution. This article and all the others like it make the same argument. This cruelty is necessary to prevent a problem. But The problem is one of your own creation because you are exploiting the animals in a manner that is in your interests, not theirs.

    And incidentally there are dairy farms that don’t separate calves, and don’t confine calves, that keep animals at lower density, that don’t use AI, that don’t take male calves away until they have grown up. Is their milk expensive? Yes. But it demonstrates that these things are not “necessary”, they are only necessary in order to maximise profits at a cheap price.

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  8. outsiders inexperienced view of how man has learnt to survive. Farming today is a massive responsibility and hugely regulated, there is no space in British farming for irresponsible practice. Being a proud beef farmer in Somerset, I encourage consumers to question local farmers on their practices. Every food producer I know will be proud to share their story of putting the best quality produce on your plate. #eatbritish #proudtobeafarmer #eatnatural #wellbeing #provernance

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Guardian is just the Daily Mail, with the dog whistle set to a different pitch. Anyone going there for truth or facts is likely to be severely disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent rebuttal, not that facts actually make the slightest dent in zealotry. They do not seem to understand, or care, that if dairy were banned tomorrow thousands if not millions of cows bred for generations to produce immense amounts of milk would go to slaughter. The high productivity breeds required to get milk on the shelves at a price anyone can afford are unable to live “wild and free.” That is why the beef industry has different breeds.

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  11. Excellent rebuttal, not that facts actually make the slightest dent in zealotry. They do not seem to understand, or care, that if dairy were banned tomorrow thousands if not millions of cows bred for generations to produce immense amounts of milk would go to slaughter. The high productivity breeds required to get milk on the shelves at a price anyone can afford are unable to live “wild and free.” That is why the beef industry has different breeds.

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  12. Shwmae Kate, hello, and straight up I’ll say I’m the owner of the cafe The Fields Beneath in London who had some strong worded poster up in its windows over the last week. I am vegan, the cafe is now vegan and I’d like to give my two cents on how I got to this point and why.

    You said in your article to “listen to as many arguments as you need to in order to make an informed decision”. I have done this in spades. The last thing I wanted to do in life was give up cheese and saucisson. My first job in coffee was at La Fromagerie, the mecca of cheese in London. I appreciate the craft of producers, and the dedication of the farmers who supply them with the raw material. You guys are the salt of the earth, who work through rain and shine, to feed the country. I admire enormously the care you have for what you do, and the respect you have for the animals you rear.

    But there is a connection I’ve made with animals in the last 18 months, that has opened up a new belief system. Veganism led me to it, and my experience of it shows no disrespect to farming. I want to make that clear. I hold no hostility to farmers, dairy, industrial or otherwise – I just believe there is a missing connection between the moment someone says they love animals, and the moment they deliver them to a slaughter house. As a man called Philip Wollen says in a well watched speech, “when we suffer, we suffer as equals, and in their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear is a boy.” That’s where I’m at. It’s not their capacity to blog, their capacity to design or their capacity to understand. Suffer.

    I’ll go through some points in your article and describe them from a vegan perspective. We have a different perspective of the world as we view animals as free beings who desire the same freedom we do – absolute.
    “High welfare accommodation” to reduce lung infections. This is not a bad thing, but can we remind ourselves the risk of lung disease in calves is caused by their close proximity to many other calves.

    From the Farmer’s Weekly website:
    “Pneumonia is typically caused by a combination of factors including stress, housing and ventilation quality and the presence of the causal viruses and bacteria.”
    “It often occurs when groups of cattle from different sources or groups are mixed or housed in large herds and can cause severe tracheitis, even in adult cattle, leading to death.”

    Farming heightens the risk. If we didn’t farm them, this problem would likely not exist. See the disease free Swona cows (albeit from a stock of cows who would be able to survive without human intervention unlike the highly selected breeds we commonly have today).

    A cattle crush may not “hurt” a cow, just as a bouncer of a night club pinning a member of the public down may not hurt them either. But it is restrictive and not a preference of the cow.

    If a cow is wanting to be milked, it will make it’s way to be milked. Understood. But let us remind ourselves why the cow produces “far too much for the calf to take” – we have bred them to do so, in order to reduce costs, increase yields, satisfy consumer and supermarket demand. It’s not the cows fault she is bulging with milk.

    When you say “they don’t notice the calf is gone” is quite sad to read in the same article that states the cow may “turn violent towards a human that tries to help the calf”. It seems you suggest the cow would be angry at humans helping its calf, and that it wanted the calf to remain in distress and die (having wanted to apparently hurt it).

    Regarding the killing of calves as a part of tuberculosis movement restrictions – again a farming made problem. These animals are not aware of being in a dairy industry that needs them dead to save others. They simply want to live.

    On that point, and your last comment about the captive bullet. Vegans are stood in the abattoir watching this captive bullet enter the skull of a beautiful young calf, with 20 years ahead of it, asking why. For a steak?
    That is veganism.

    I do not want farmers to stop farming, or stop getting up at the crack of arse, working the land, living in and loving nature, becoming a 6th, 7th, 8th generation family of farmers. I want people to stop farming animals. To stop pretending that a captive bullet is painless, euthanasia is necessary, drinking cow’s milk is ‘normal’. It was, but we can make a new normal, that doesn’t use animals, cause them to suffer in any way, and work with nature in a way we haven’t done so in a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment and providing the viewpoint of a vegan in measured and non sensationalist tones. I feel I need to respond to some of the points in your comment and will do so when I have finished at my day job. Thanks again.

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    • Great response. I truly believe it is a “connection” issue also.
      When I fell off the veggie wagon, I used to keep my own chickens and killed the ones that needed killing. On one occasion I needed to kill 3 Cockerels. These were tame, sit in your arms for a cuddle, range everywhere Cockerel’s who came to me because they trusted me. The first was easy, the second OK, the third knew exactly what was about to happen even though all had been taken away to a shed so the flock had no idea what was going on. This was enough to make me think about the abattoir environment and rethink my meat consumption. This was my “connection”

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    • Have you ever looked at the pet industry in the same way as the dairy industry?

      If you are so against animals being out of their ‘natural’ habitat then by all means give up your dog/cat/rabbit/hamster/fish – where is the line drawn? When does one animal become more ‘worthy’ of its natural life than another?

      Should dogs and cats not be restrained to administer life-saving drugs (like antibiotics) in the same way cows are? Is euthanasia so unnecessary when it is finally ending the suffering of a 12 year old dog with a severe progressive osteosarcoma?

      What about the breeds of dog that, as cows have, been bred in such a way that they are now so unnatural that some need life-saving surgery just for the privilege of breathing normally? People will happily coo over a video of a snoring pug and then lash out at the ‘monsters’ who promote the dairy industry.

      Just to say I don’t mean to lash out and I’m sorry if I came across that way – I really appreciate the concise way you came across in your post and wanted to offer another viewpoint that hasn’t been said here yet!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Thoughtful and thanks for your comments. Domesticated or wild is not the point of my side of the discussion. I’ve been to animal sanctuaries where they have 30 jersey/dexter cross bred cows – they live on the farm, they are loved like a dog would be, with no intention but to give it the happiest of life, within the context of a family home/farm. The difference between that and animal farming, is that the latter has a clear intention for the animal as a commodity (I’m not saying that’s ALL they are to farmers) – but they have a shelf life. They will get to the end of their profitable life, and will then be sent to slaughter.

        This is not the case with pets. Some vegans believe pets to be ‘unvegan’ – I personally have four cats, which my wife and I got before we went vegan. The issue I have with them is that we have fed them chicken, beef, lamb, etc… Organic, but it’s a big integrity issue for me that they do. However, my wife is currently on holiday, and potentially to her disapproval, when she returns, they’ll be vegan (there is a complete food for them that has all necessary nutrients I’m weening them onto).

        Personally I disagree with breeding animals. Puppy farms are abhorrent alongside over 5k unwanted dogs every year being put down in the UK. And I accept the use of euthanasia on my parents if they wanted it as much as an animal in severe and terminal discomfort.

        To restrain an animal or human in order to administer medicine is different to restraining them to impregnate them in order to get them to lactate so we can milk them and pour it on our coco pops.

        My comment above is to highlight that in the context of farming, what Kate does is high-welfare, respectful and kind. However in the context of freedom, which is essentially the goal of veganism, these practises are not high-welfare, they are not respectful and they are not kind. I’m really not lashing out at Kate here, I would love to visit the farm and meet her – I have no doubt she is lovely, and have never had the thought that any farmer is a monster.

        Regards,

        Gavin

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  13. The only thing I would add is that halal meat is not necessarily killed without stunning. I don’t back any religion and certainly put animal welfare above them all… however this comment adds fuel to certain right wing fires. I have seen with my own eyes beef cattle slaughtered in a commercial unit in the U.K. that was stunned and destined for the halal market: the ‘rules’ are open to the interpretation of the slaughterman.

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  14. The antis are missing the point. The human population is exploding. It needs feeding. The only way we can produce enough to feed the masses is by intensively farming which is only going to become more intensive as urban sprawl eats more and more farmland. So how about instead of abusing farmers we turn that energy into helping them nourish the people? Now I do not agree with cage farming at all, it’s abhorrent and wrong so I’m careful to buy free range meat and eggs and by doing so I like to think I’m helping and supporting the farmers who work hard raising happy free range animals.

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  15. Thank you for such a thorough response to the Guardian’s article, which I have just read. Sadly, I don’t believe any of the media, print or broadcast, have yet ‘got’ the countryside. And of course, every single outlet is partisan in some way and will ‘load’ its output accordingly — for example, in the case of the Guardian article, in the repeated use of the emotive word ‘baby’ instead of ‘calf’ and the distorted view of the AI process. (I think most people do not realise that the bulls of dairy breeds are notoriously temperamental, unpredictable and thus dangerous. I’m sure you will agree that it would be impossible for every dairy farmer to keep an entire breeding bull simply to service his own herd. Artificial insemination — in no way cruel or unusual — is the only viable alternative.)

    I have tweeted the link to your article, but you might also see that I have tweeted further and I hope my suggestion that there is still ‘room for improvement’ in the dairy industry will not offend you. Personally, I do not believe that zero-grazing systems or mega-dairies are appropriate, but then I regard these as manifestations of agribusiness, in which livestock are treated as mere commodities or units of production, and not farming in the sense that I understand it. I do believe that the majority of genuine farmers want the very best for their livestock. As you point out so ably, economics alone would make this the case, but of course farmers’ attachment to their stock goes way beyond that. Obviously, there will always be some who ‘let the side down’ and that is why there are checks and balances in place. But for most it is a constant struggle to do the very best by their animals and to improve — introducing different grazing regimes (mob grazing, herbal leys), laying cow tracks to preserve both pasture and foot health, and so on — provided that there’s money for investment. I tweeted that a sustainable milk price is key. Dairy farmers need to be supported and encouraged, not castigated or demonised.

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  16. what a lot of tripe! yeah farmers do it for the love not the money, very biased and incorrect article,

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  17. What a great response to that awful article. Has this been forwarded to the Guardian? I think Chas needs to visit a dairy farm before he makes these terrible accusations. I am sick of farmers being abused by ill informed individuals. We love our animals and do the best we can for them.

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  18. Well said. The Guardian article was such a biased, emotional and innaccurate article that I hoped someone would put the facts straight.
    Dairy farming is not perfect – show me an industry that is – and yes, farmers are in business to make money (because that’s what business is about). It would be good if people so opposed to dairy farming took the opportunity to visit a farm and see what happens, to ask questions and make farmers justify what they do. Then they can make an informed choice not one based on untruths and myths.
    Open Farm Sunday is on 11th June when farms all over the country will be open to visitors.

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  19. On top of the points made by Gavin Fernback, I would like to add that there is not just the ethical viewpoint of if it justified to kill/farm animals for food when we could live without (I have no issue with subsistence farming, however, this is not the case in Western countries) but also the environmental impact.

    To feed cows, large monocultures must therefore be farmed. These crop fields reduce biodiversity and habitats for many animals, and is one of the reasons certain species of flora and fauna are becoming at risk or endangered.
    GCSE biology will also tell you about the loss of energy as you go up the food chain in terms of calories wasted. Reasons for the energy loss are by movement, respiration, egestion and excretion (of carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas) by cows. If cows were not farmed in such large quantities for milk, the corresponding amount of plant based agriculture needed to feed us if we didn’t eat dairy or meat would be less. Even though we would have to eat more plant-based food instead. Google trophic levels if you don’t see why. A reduction in crop fields would support native species of plants and animals to establish/reestablish themselves in the UK. Crop/open fields also have poorer ability to keep water in the soil. This increases the risk of flooding, which has affected people in the UK before.

    Cows also emit alot of methane, a greenhouse gas, on top of the CO2 they exhale anyway.

    Cows require tons of water, which in certain countries such as South America can mean there isn’t enough to go round for people and crops.
    In the Southern Hemisphere, cattle grazing fields are created by ‘slash and burn’ of the rainforest. Loss of the rainforest contributes to species extinction, global warming and dysregulates the water cycle by reducing land water stores (e.g in the plants/trees) which exacerbates flooding and droughts. .

    If we were to stop animal farming, it would have a massive impact on the environment. For this reason, whether or not the animals have been ‘humanely slaughtered’ or well-treated during their lives has little to do with whether or not we should continue consuming animal prodcuts. Unless of course you don’t believe in climate change, care about endangered species or worry about poor soil quality and flooding.

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    • Thank you for making your point. These are separate issues to the ones I was addressing in my blog post- I was discussing and refuting the ideas shared by Chas Newkey Burden. The ‘ethics’ of farming in general were not discussed in his piece, his piece specifically dealt with the dairy cow life cycle.

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  20. “Do you say that to women who donate milk for other children to drink? Not your mum not your milk? And it’s not a breast.The term is udder.”

    Pretty sure women who donate breastmilk are doing it willingly. I very much doubt a cow likes to be fisted while being forcefully impregnated to then have her precious baby taken away so humans can drink the milk intended for her baby… Humans are the only species to drink breastmilk (uddermilk) to adulthood. And to drink it from another species is not normal or natural.

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    • Emily, your comments really are ill informed and as I stated before, completely childish in your manner. Your knowledge on the subject of animal agriculture is quite appalling. Until you know what it is you are actually screeching about, preferably leaving out the nonsense of PETA et al, I strongly suggest you stay quiet on this subject. You’re embarrassing yourself. Be vegan, by all means, just do it with out the crap.

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  21. Thank you for this informative article.
    You articulate yourself well and provide an informative overview of the dairy farming process.

    Sadly, the main thing you fail to consider is the feelings of the cows that want to live without being interfered with and in most cases I’m sure, want to mother their calves. As you say there are occasions when the mother may not want her calf and I don’t doubt you, but surely as with the majority of mothers, they want to be with their child?

    Obviously farmers care about their animals, they are the way they make a living but regardless of this I’m sure many farmers have a connection with the animals.
    But ultimately, care of the animals is about maximising productivity and ensuring output is of high enough quality to make a profit.
    It’s not about allowing the animals to live in conditions as close to their natural state as possible.

    I understand thinking about cows or any farm animal as an individual with feelings and a will to live as it chooses, is confronting and may be totally alien to your current beliefs. It most likely involves reconsidering your view of these animals from a commodity, to a feeling individual who can be happy or sad, who wants to live and choose whether they stay with their children.

    If these animals are not a commodity but a sentient being then should they be used so we can have milk, cheese, beef and so on and earn a living from their produce?

    More and more people are beginning to see animals as sentient and deserving of not being used as a commodity.
    Several recent TV programmes focus on the issue of animal feelings and intelligence for example “animals in love”, “ingenious animals” and “spy in the wild” to name a few.
    I believe this empathy towards animals along with the acknowledgement they have feelings will grow.
    As a result demand for animal products will reduce. This is happening already.

    As with any social justice movement, there will be critics who say those looking for change are “ideological lunatics out of touch with both humanity and reality”, as stated by one of your commenters.
    Similar was said of those looking to abolish slavery.
    Now it seems unbelievable it was acceptable to own another human and for that individual to provide labour for the owner.

    Obviously people have a choice of buying animal products or otherwise and although demand may drop as this empathy grows, the reality is it will be over the course of years not overnight. Thus suddenly having thousands of redundant diary cows that one commenter says will need to be slaughtered, is unlikely.

    Maybe this empathy will drive a shift in farming and we’ll see a return to smaller farms that focus on quality rather than cheap products, with consumers prepared to pay a reasonable price for quality products.

    Or is there an opportunity for farmers to diversify and use their land to grow a range of crops?
    I’m sure there would be challenges, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution, particularly considering the technology available today.
    Just think of what farmers have achieved historically, without the technology we have today.

    If the farming industry decides to make changes, hopefully these changes will be positive for the farming community if not immediately then in the medium or long term.

    As with many businesses, it will likely be those that embrace change and find a successful way to work in the brave new world that will really thrive.

    With consumers empathy for animals growing, isn’t it worth the farming community considering a way forward that’s driven by compassion for animals?
    Surely there is and we can all work towards this together?

    With hope and love for all kind Jo Deeks x

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  22. Thanks Jo. I feel I need to respond in depth. I feel it is incredibly offensive to be told farmers are in it for the money. If money and profit margins meant more to us than our cows we would have given up our farm years ago. There is no profit in dairy farming. Period. We do it because it is a family way of life, which has grown out of the smaller farms of yester year you refer to. Why would we call out the vet at 2am to a sick or injured animal, to put ourselves at a financial loss, if we were only in it for the money? Surely we would just shoot it if we were so uncaring, and it was all about profit margins?
    No, you haven’t upset me with referring to cows an individuals- each cow in our herd has a name, and a family tree. We know each cow by sight- who is whose mum, daughter, sister or grandmother. We have their family trees going back in record form to the 194os .
    We already use some of our land for crops- barley and oats. Not all of our land is suitable for crops, and this is the same for many other farms. As farmers we know what is the best use for our land- we do soil testing, consider climate and ground topography. Forcing farmers to grow crops when their land may not be suitable has been done before- namely during the second world war. It had mixed results, with some crops doing ok and some failing.
    If we do away entirely with the consumption of meat, crop growth will require fertiliser. For the volume of crops at affordable prices to all people in the uk fertiliser will be required. Is this ethical??
    If I follow your viewpoint I seem to end up in a world with no farming of livestock whatsoever. If that is the case then we will need to euthanize our cattle. Domesticated cattle have lived alongside man for at least 3000 years. Do you seriously think we can just open a farm gate and let them go to ‘live as they please’? Sounds exceptionally utopian.
    I also feel that your argument and that of others with similar beliefs puts an awful lot of weight on anthropomorphising animals.
    As for diversification- ok, let me suggest an option where both parties can embrace ‘compassion for animals’- cow sponsorship. Adopt a cow- you can pay £1000 a year for your chosen cow, we will feed, water, house and care for her for her supposed/assumed 25 years of life (this is apparently the age cows live to, I have no idea where the vegans have got this figure as they haven’t given any scientific references). In return you can visit/get updates on your cow. The £1000 is the average cost to us at present to keep a dairy cow alive. Obviously prices may have to increase due to changes to housing facilities and feeding regimes to ensure the cows live a life ‘free of interference’.

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    • I too live in West Wales and would like to share my experience of local livestock farming and it is far from the rosy picture you are trying to paint. I have one particular neighbour with a Btb breakdown who also farms sheep and puppies. Stock are not checked regularly and cast sheep are left to die where they lie. There is no biosecurity and carcasses are left to rot after attempts are made to hide them under feeding troughs.
      I have another neighbour, an arable farmer producing excellent organic produce. The two farms have very similar terrain.

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  23. As a vet who has seen many health issues associated with the high milk yield of dairy cows – lameness, mastitis, LAD etc I think it’s interesting that you don’t really feel the need to mention these things. It is in the dairy vet’s interest to be outraged by the Guardian article – high yielding cows make money! Anyone who suggests otherwise is lying! I did work experience with Westpoint vets. We spent days on farms dealing with LADs, downer cows and lameness.

    There is good science to show that the cognitive abilities of calves are affected by their removal from their mother. You fail to mention that in the article. There is also good science to show calves need to be in groups. It is amazing that you feel you have some connection with cows but treat them as though they have no emotional intelligence. You really think that cows don’t have maternal drive for their calves? I think this article sums up farmers very well. Cows are not seen as sentient, you even go as far as to say they may attack their young. Wow, really painting the reality there. How is that beef cows manage so well? Oh yes….because your argument is deeply floored. So sheep and beef cows are good mothers but dairy cows are bad mothers???

    Dairy is a dying industry, how many farms are shutting every day…..This is industry is one of the few that will definitely not exist in the same way 15 years time, or at least not to the degree is does now.

    If you really thought those calves looked fine, that the hutches didn’t look too small for the older calves, then you really are not doing yourself any favours. The general public are shocked. Those in the industry are not. Is it a surprise? No. Because people are desensitised and it’s in theirs and your interest to keep doing the thing you have always done even if the science shows it to be the contrary. But I guess when you really think the animals lack so much intelligence and are in fact just milking machines it’s not really a great surprise.

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    • I’m quite confused by your reply as a fellow vet- are you a large animal vet? Do you even practise? Beef cows and sheep can be equally crap mothers, it’s called mismothering. Cats and dogs do it too- something I would have thought you would have been aware of. Yes cows can trample, kick and lie on calves to kill them. Have you not experienced this either?? If you read my post you can see I agreed with the author of the other article in saying hutches and single pens Are NOT appropriate accomodation for calves over 8 weeks of age. FACT. I did not mention the potential illnesses encountered by dairy cows- mastitis, milk fever, hypomagnesemia, LDAs etc etc etc as my blog post would have been far too long, and off the topic of countering the lies and (to be blunt) crap writing of Chas. PS I think you meant to type ‘flawed’

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  24. The almost instant reply by the author to the comments on this blog seems a bit narcissistic!

    “Thank you for your comment, but…”
    “I’m a really nice person and I love my cows”
    “I’m a veterinary surgeon, which means I know a lot about this”

    I’m not strongly for or against the arguments here. It has been an interesting discussion and I have learnt new things.

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