Februdairy- fakery, flaws and falsehoods.

I’ve been quiet for most of February. Not because I don’t care. Not because I’m ashamed or afraid to stand behind the UK dairy industry. Nope, mainly due to the boring fact that  life as a mum , farmers partner and working  as a veterinary surgeon doesn’t let me have much time to sit and bash on a keyboard .  However, a couple of things have spurred me to spend my ‘free time’ doing some blogging.   A twitter feed from a self professed ‘oat girl living in a cow milk world…whatever that means. The footage of cows being ‘set free’ drove home the other niggle I have had -a lot of ‘anti dairy’ arguments seem to be fuelled by a desire for anarchy  hidden behind a thin façade of ‘doing the right thing’ for animals. The twitter feed appears to be an attempt to expose the ‘truth’ behind the Uk dairy industry, and typifies the more eloquent side of the militant vegan arguments that I have come across this month. Little grains of truth or even half truth taken out of context, or twisted to fit a cause.

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I’ve decided to go through some of the points I have read from this feed and give an alternative view.  At the end of the day I am not opposed to veganism. If someone chooses not to rely on animals for food or other resources, and can do so ethically and sustainably then that is something to be applauded in its own right. However, I believe that if others choose to rely on animal products for nutrition then they should be able to do so, making an informed decision and not have other views forced upon them.

Lets start with a few of the points I’ve  covered in previous blogs

First up, lifespan. Apparently, all Dairy cows in the UK  die at a young age, whilst their natural lifespan is 20 years: is it? This was and still is news to me, after a total of 7 years at University on animal related degrees, and 5 years of working as a vet, not once has the ‘natural lifespan’ of a dairy cow been mentioned before, until the Dairy Industry bashing began. I wrote a bit about this  here.

Next up, Bull Calves.

Do all bull calves die at birth – Nope. Some bull calves die at birth. Some bull calves die before or during birth (stillborn). Some, very few, British bull dairy calves are euthanized at birth (shot). I’m not going to say it does not happen, but this practice is not standard on all UK Dairy farms.  Again, I wrote a bit about this before.

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Now for something I haven’t mentioned much of before. Vegans have a dislike of the plastic huts used as calf housing, as they are cruel-  Why?! These ‘huts’ , also known as calf igloos or hutches are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They combine the  benefits of living outdoors with good shelter  against the unpredictable weather we have here in the UK. Calves are protected against rain, wind chill, snow and heat. 

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Tonight the temperatures outdoors will drop below minus 5. On our farm, any calves that are group housed in hutches are nestled in straw, warm and safe from the elements. They will not be exposed sub zero temperatures as the hutch as a microclimate.

The hutches also provide excellent ventilation. Young calves are susceptible to lung infections and this style of housing helps to significantly reduce the risk of illness. Indoor spaces that are not specifically designed to house calves can actually increase the risk of illness. 

Keeping a calf outside ‘naturally’ in all seasons/weathers would a) be a welfare issue and b) result in death, disease and/or suffering.

On some farms calves are housed individually for a period before being housed in groups. Single hutches are a great way to ensure good health in young calves as it prevent  disease spreading to lots of calves if one does become ill. A calf is able to make a choice as they still have access to an outdoor or exercise area, so they can pop in and out of their house when they want.

Also these things are flipping expensive!! A group hutch for 5 calves will cost approximately £600. That only houses 5 calves. Most farms will obviously need many of these. If they weren’t beneficial they would not exist!

Now to tackle some incorrect and outlandish suggestions.

Milk is pus.

Anti Dairy activists often say that every time you drink milk you drink pus, hormones and a whole lot of sh%te that will poison you. WRONG! Lets start with pus. There is no pus in shop bought milk!! Yes, sometimes a cow with mastitis will have pus present in the udder at milking. However, there are several ways used to ensure that this doesn’t enter the milk that arrives at the shop.

  • Pre checking the cow- each cow is checked before milking. If there are any signs of illness or injury that would make the milk unsaleable then the cow is milked but the milk is discarded. Now before we get twitchy about a cow being milked whilst it has mastitis- this is part of the treatment. If infection is present, removing the affected milk is a vital part of helping the cow get better . This isn’t just specific to cows- ask any human who has had mastitis what the cure was.
  • Filters in the milking machine- there is an in built filtration system in a milking machine which would remove any debris from the milk before it entered the bulk tank. This means that even if pus or any other substance was present in the milk it would be removed by the filter.
  • Somatic Cell Counts (scc)- One factor that impacts on how a dairy farmer is paid by a milk buyer is the quality of the milk. This is measured in several ways, one being SCC. We are financially penalised for a high somatic cell count , therefore it is not in a dairy farmers interest to produce poor quality milk. In addition, it is a matter of pride! All dairy farmers strive to produce the best quality milk possible. To this end there are even benchmarking systems and milk buyers awards for high quality milk.
  • Hormones- we don’t inject our cows with hormones to increase milk. It is illegal.
  • Blood- Nuh uh….again this would affect milk quality. See above for penalties.

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Dairy farmers just want cows with big udders.

In fact, the vegans think we are selectively breeding for it. Fail. If anything dairy farmers are trying not to breed cows with large udders. Large udders are difficult to milk as the milking machine will not fit. The risk of mastitis, lameness, mobility issues, skin lesions and damage to the teats is increased by having a large udder. Dairy farmers selectively breed for traits that improve udder and therefore cow health and lifespan. These traits include improving the ligaments that hold the udder in place, average spaced teats and teat length. The size of an udder DOES NOT CORRELATE to milk yield. Bigger udder doesn’t equal more milk.

Dairy farmers don’t want to talk to vegans

I’ve met quite a few vegans…and I’m happy to talk and share opinions. I’m happy to answer questions about farming methods or concerns that people might have. What I’m not happy with is arguing, name calling, death threats, slander or general ‘one-up- manship’ on who has the most ethical and righteous diet. Some farmers don’t want to engage, but most of those on social media are happy to have conversations if they are treated with respect and an open mind.

A little on propaganda…

One thing I really hate is seeing inaccurate photos being used to slander the UK Dairy industry. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and yet time and again I see images that depict practices that are banned in the UK being used to depict what we do here. For instance  I have seen photos of stall tied cows being used- it is illegal to stall tie cows in the UK. I have also seen photos being used that don’t even show what they are being purported to show. For instance a video clip supposedly showing a lame dairy cow being sent to slaughter actually showed a cow with a fractured leg being euthanized under appropriate emergency slaughter technique. The implication was that this is standard practice for all lame dairy cows, where in fact this was a rare emergency case.

I haven’t finished yet…still 2 more days of Februdairy left, and still many more myths to debunk.