A holocaust is taking place in your backyard. I’m not exaggerating, scaremongering, being melodramatic or “green”. And I’m not being disrespectful. Prior to writing this article, I didn’t know that my idea of cows milk was very naive and largely based on pure propaganda, fed to me from the day I was born in the Netherlands – a country possibly more crazy about dairying than New Zealand -. I thought it goes like this: you feed the cow, you milk the cow, the milk goes in the bottle, the bottle comes to town (or is exported overseas). O, yes, and: milk is good for humans.
I am only just finding out that these are all myths to keep the dairying machine pumping. It is tempting to assume that cows must be kept healthy and happy or else they wouldn’t survive to continue to give milk. But that is equally naive as thinking that those who did survive years of torture, hunger, slave labour and maltreatment in concentration camps had their well-being and welfare looked after. Their survival is simply a testimony to the awesome resilience of the Force of Life, triumphing against all odds. In the case of any holocaust the odds being systematical, intentionally inflicted suffering of defenseless, living, breathing creatures, ending in callous slaughter.
For most of her life, a cow will be kept pregnant and milked. After giving birth, she will continue to be milked for 10 months – but will be made pregnant again within 3 months. Only for the final few weeks of pregnancy she will be “dried out” (stop being milked) and her overworked udder given a rest. “Dairy cows” never have the opportunity to raise any of their babies. Yet, the bond between a cow and her calf is very strong. Taking away a calf is greatly distressing for both mother and baby. They cry and search for each other for quite some time. Every farmer knows this. Without human intervention calves will suckle their mothers for nearly a year. During natural weaning there is never a complete and abrupt abandonment of the calf by the cow. The cow and calf will maintain a lifelong relationship of social contact and companionship.
However, for the sake of our glasses of milk, flat whites, butter and so on, the calves are taken from the mother either at birth or when they are just 2 days old. They very rarely get a taste of their own mother’s milk: a calf consuming its mothers milk means loss of profit for the farmer. Only a fraction of calves born are kept to replace the required cows and bulls for the farmers to maintain their herds. Most are stalled in pens, sheds or paddocks with other calves; waiting for their imminent trip to the slaughterhouse, a journey fraught with more suffering, abuse, discomfort, pain and fear.
Photo Caption: This calf is trying to free itself from agony, after someone has woven its broken leg through the bars of a cattle truck on its way to the slaughter house. This is obviously done to “comply” with the Code of Welfare the Dairy Cows. It stipulates that en route to the slaughterhouse each calve must be able to stand on all four limbs. So this calf was made to ‘stand’ in this stock truck, filled with bobby calves on its way to the slaughterhouse. Photo taken by Animal Freedom Aotearo (2010) while the truck was standing on the side of the road near Nelson.
That is, if the cow has been allowed to carry her baby for a full term. About 40 per cent of New Zealand dairy farms often routinely abort calves (euphemistically called “induction”). While this was officially promised to be phased out in 2005, the practice continues and is actively condoned and supported by many Aotearoa vets. Earlier this year, Fonterra’s Chairman, Sir Henry van der Heyden was found doing just that at the four dairy farms he owns. Induction brings the dairy cow into milk production two or three months sooner than she would have, if left to calve in her own time. The premature calf usually dies. “Calves that aren’t stillborn are premature and in a very weak state. Farmers dispose of these premature calves by shooting them or bashing their skull with a hammer,” says Hans Kriek, from the animal organization SAFE. Van der Heyden’s comment simply was: “It’s like many other farms; it’s about driving productivity. It’s to get the cows to produce milk over a longer period in the season. ”
Photo Caption: Calves are the unwanted byproduct of milk production, only made to be born in order to keep the cow producing milk. In New Zealand alone, approximately 1.5 million calves are slaughtered every year. This does not include calves killed on farms, “home-kill” or calves aborted (or inducted) and killed on the farm, such as in this photo. (Courtesy Animal Freedom Aotearoa, 2010)
Earlier in my life, i would shiver hearing stories like these, perhaps be upset for a day or two, and then feel blessed that it wasn’t happening for me or around me or so close to me that i had to do something about it. I didn’t have the energy, attention or guts for it. I had my hands full working on staying happy. I didn’t want to know too much details about what humans are really up to. When upset about finding out some of the things “what we are really doing” in this world, I would feel my life energy drain and my happy feelings leave me, as they were not underpinned by anything other than keeping circumstances neat and tidy. So my main thrust would always be to keep these in place day and night. This is a process every unenlightened human is involved in. In relation to the dairy industry, Literature Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee, describes this process as follows: “The vast majority of the public has an equivocal attitude to the industrial use of animals: they make use of the products of that industry, but are nevertheless a little sickened, a little queasy, when they think of what happens on factory farms and abattoirs. Therefore they arrange their lives in such a way that they need be reminded of farms and abattoirs as little as possible, and they do their best to ensure their children are kept in the dark too, because children have tender hearts and are easily moved.”
It is no wonder then, that the debate on the dairy industry’s “ills” has recently moved to “sustainability” and “the environment”. This is much more palatable and distracts attention from the suffering of cows and calves. “Livestocks’ long shadow; environmental issues and options”, a report produced by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in 2006, was the spark for a focus on sustainability. I think the popular “sustainability”-debate will suit the dairy industry very, very well. It is a debate fraught with disagreements, scientifically based disputes and bickering about the exact percentages that intensive dairy farming (pretty much the only type left in Aotearoa and the world) contributes to air, atmosphere and climate pollution. It easily distracts mass media and the public from the mass murder of calves and slaughter of cows. It won’t upset any children either. If i was a dairying advocate, i’d be stoked at finding such a clever decoy from the suffering and abuse i inflict day-in-day out on millions of calves and cows, every year, with no reprieve for the animals in sight, and full endorsement from every consumer of dairy products and its derivatives.
Learning the facts about modern day dairying for this article, compelled me to make comparisons with the second world war holocaust. This is a contentious parallel to draw, but i found that i am not the only one feeling this way. Not only does J. M. Coetzee draw the same parallel in his article for the Sydney Morning Herald “Dairy farming must be called to slaughterhouse”, the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer too, made a high profile comparison in a number of his stories (and was scorched for it). For instance, in The Letter Writer, the protagonist says: “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.”
A dairy cow finally arriving at the stockyard ready for slaughter will be only anywhere between 5-7 years old. Left to nature’s devices and her own natural cycles, she would live to between 20-30 years of age. Cows often arrive for slaughter skin and bone, and worn out. To prepare them for slaughter they are constantly sprayed with water (and may die “prematurely” from hypothermia, as they are even sprayed with water throughout the night). If they survive this treatment, it will not be long before they receive an electric shock (are “stunned”) and have their throats slit. A volunteer at Animal Freedom Aotearoa describes a visit to the kill floor: “The stunning machine at this particular slaughterhouse involved a constant stream of water drenching the cows face and then an electrical current passing through her. They would then roll out on to the kill floor their limbs curled in and shaking. Then cow after cow had her throat slit in front of me. Back in his office the yard manager shared stories of cows who have not been stunned properly, cows who have run through the kill floor and the times he has gotten to go and use his gun on them.”
Looking just a little deeper into the most revered, supported, glamourised and propagandised industry of New Zealand, the facts I’ve found make such a compelling case against the dairy industry (and not just in New Zealand) that i wonder why this revolting practice is condoned, supported and applauded by almost all of us. But maybe this also is just a bit naive. After all, before starting to write this piece, so did i. If i get a little bit more real, i can see that this is yet another demonstration of the economic principle we live by, that we’d rather avoid than admit to. Before Love takes hold of our Heart, greed comes before compassion.
If you are moved in the slightest by what we are currently inflicting on living, breathing, feeling mammals, know that all it will take to bring this filthy and cruel industry to its knees is for us to stop eating and drinking dairy products (and its derivatives). What’s more, we don’t need dairy (nor meat) for our health. Not even for calcium or protein. On the contrary: dairy has been associated with causing most modern day diseases the Western human suffers and dies from. But that is another story.
1. “The story of milk”, on YouTube, created by AnimalFreedom TV, Aotearoa. http://
2 – J.M. Coetzee, “Exposing the beast: factory farming must be called to the
slaughterhouse.”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 February 2007
3. Footage of the lot of some of New Zealand’s inducted calves. Induction is used on and
estimated 40% of New Zealand farms. This practice done with the help of vets is purely
done for reasons of profit. http://www.youtube.com.s48.en.wbprx.com/user/lable80#p/a/u/0/iz9mUmzvzXc
4. Background information and trailer of “Meat the truth” about the world wide impact of
industrial farming on the earth’s environment: http://www.meatthetruth.nl.s48.en.wbprx.com/en/
6. In depth 2010 investigations into the dairy industry in New Zealand, by Animal Freedom
Aotearo available on their website: http://www.animalfreedom.org.nz.s48.en.wbprx.com/dairyinvestigation.
7. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Full report downloadable in
8. “Induce labour, pay cost or kill the cow”, http://www.times-age.co.nz.s48.en.wbprx.com/local/news/inducelabour-
pay-cost-or-kill-the-cow/3924659/, an interview with Wairarapa Federated Farmers
Dairy chairman Graeme Stuart.
9. “The inner world of farm animals: their amazing social, emotional and intellectual
capacities” by Amy Hatkoff, 2009.
10. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, “The face on your plate”, 2009
11. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, “The pig who sang to the moon; the emotional world of
farm animals”, 2004.
12. Animal protein and dairy cause cancer: http://www.youtube.com.s48.en.wbprx.com/watch?v=yfsTqYeqGM
13. Chocolate, cheese, meat, and sugar – physically addictive: http://www.youtube.com.s48.en.wbprx.com/