400,000 'waste products'
Every year, hundreds of thousands of bobby calves are either sent to slaughter (around 400,000 each year) or are killed on farm in their first week of life so that milk can be harvested from their mothers for human consumption. Considered economically insignificant, male calves, and the females who are excess to the dairy industry's needs, are separated from their mothers on their first day of life. From as young as 5 days old, they are loaded onto trucks and sent to slaughter.
Cows are renowned for their maternal instinct. Like humans, a mother cow bonds quickly with her calf. So when he is taken away from her, both mother and calf can usually be heard calling out for each other for hours.
To make matters worse, dairy cows are kept almost continually impregnated. Each year, she is forced once again to go through the physical demands of pregnancy and calving and then the stress of having her newborn calf taken away — all to enable her continuous milk production.
At just five-days of age, the unwanted calves may still be weak and unstable on their feet. Yet they are made to clamber up ramps and onto trucks. Their immature hooves often slip on these metal ramps and can even fall between the slatted flooring designed for older animals. Stockmen have been known to shove, hit, shout at and even throw these young animals to get them on and off trucks.
Deprived of feed
Calves can legally be deprived of feed for the last 30 hours of life. In a natural setting they would feed up to 5 times a day. But dairy calves usually spend their last night on earth, hungry and far from their mother's care, in a crowded pen at the slaughterhouse.
This recent investigation at a slaughterhouse in Northern Victoria reveals the rough handling that calves can experience in their final moments. While some of the cruelty uncovered at this abattoir was illegal, incredibly, no charges were laid. The abattoir owner and workers involved got off with only a formal warning.
Those female calves who are kept to replenish the dairy herd will undergo painful on-farm procedures, such as disbudding. Calves may have a hot iron pressed into their head, to damage the immature horn tissue (called buds) and prevent them from growing horns; or have the horn bud scooped out. Despite disbudding being immensely painful and distressing for calves, it is usually done without any pain relief.
To make the birth of new calves into the herd occur over a convenient time period, some dairy farmers induce labour in pregnant cows, so that they will deliver their calves earlier than nature intended. This is done despite the fact it puts the mother at greater risk of uterine infection, and even death.
Induction also affects the health of the calf. Many calves who are born early are unable to survive and are immediately killed. They may be shot in the head, using a captive bolt to the brain; or may be killed using blunt trauma to their skull. Sadly, calving induction continues and is legal, despite most dairy farmers successfully managing calving without such intervention.
Discover more about dairy
These are only some of the problems faced by cows and their calves in the dairy industry. Find out more about what dairy production means for cows.
YOU CAN HELP!
Discover delicious dairy-free alternatives
While the problem of 'disposing' of unwanted calves is the same across the whole dairy industry, you have the power to help protect calves and their mothers from cruelty. If you want to see an end to the killing of 5-day-old calves, then join thousands of Australians who are pledging to go dairy-free for their own health and for the animals.
Click here to explore the amazing range of delicious dairy-free alternatives, which are readily available.