Calves are taken from their mothers within 12-24 hours of birth. The separation breaks a strong maternal bond, and both cows and calves suffer.
To produce milk for human consumption, a dairy cow must keep giving birth to calves, usually each year.
Calves are taken from their mothers within 12-24 hours of birth. If nature was allowed to take its course—calves would suckle from their mother for several months, even up to a year. Mother cows, like most mammals have a strong maternal bond. One study found that this bond was formed in as little as five minutes.
When calves are removed mother cows will frantically bellow for the offspring that they will never see again. Separated calves appear frightened and bewildered. Regardless of how this situation is handled this separation causes enormous stress for both the cow and calf.
New mothers are returned to the milking herd to maximise profits. The milk that nature destined for the calf is then processed for human consumption.
The fate of the calf
Most recent industry figures indicate that around 400, 000 unwanted dairy calves, not wanted for herd replacement or rearing for pink veal, are slaughtered each year in Australia as 'waste-products' of the dairy industry — usually at around the tender age of 5 - 6 days old. Dairy calves are not valued as they don't grow at the same rate as beef calves and their meat quality is considered sub-standard by the beef industry.
As soon as calves reach their fifth day of life (after separation from their mothers they are fed a milk substitute) the Australian livestock transport standards  allow the calves to be transported to abattoirs and saleyards. Bewildered calves are subjected to the stresses of unfamiliar sights and sounds and multiple and often rough handling as they are transported to calf scales, sale yards and slaughterhouses.
While Standards and Guidelines are written to protect the welfare of animals during transport , these fall far short from protecting these young vulnerable animals from suffering.
For example, the industry deems it acceptable to withhold food (milk) from five day old calves for up to 30 hours before they are slaughtered. This means that calves can be fed in the morning, than transported and kept at the abattoir overnight without any food before being killed the next day. To go without food for such an extensive period of time has an enormous negative welfare impact due to a feeling of hunger next to the already stressful event of transport. Whilst calves normally suckle about 5 times a day, the Australian Standards and Guidelines for transporting animals allow them to go hungry for the last hours of their short lives.
The life of a dairy cow
The strain of producing enormous amounts of milk
The natural lifespan of a cow is up to 20 years, yet few commercial dairy cows live beyond the age of seven years, and many younger animals go to slaughter.
Selective breeding and, more recently, genetic manipulation, has resulted in the selection and production of cows who produce enormous amounts of milk. The modern dairy cow can produce about 35-50 litres of milk per day—about ten times more milk than her calf would need.
Producing large quantities of milk puts a significant metabolic strain on the animal. The great weight of the udders often causes painful stretching or tearing of ligaments and frequently causes foot problems, such as laminitis. These foot problems can be associated with significant pain. Dairy cattle are also susceptible to infections of the teat and udder (mastitis), which can be very painful.
The milking machine itself may render the cow more susceptible to infection. The front teats may be subjected to vacuum pulsing for up to two minutes after the quarter has been emptied and while the hind teats are still yielding. This is believed to be painful for the cow, and may also weaken tissue. The nature of the vacuum milking process is known to increase the possibility of infection.
Frustrated maternal instincts
A young female cow (heifer) has her first calf at about two years of age. The calf is taken away, usually within 12-24 hours of birth, and the mother is milked to capacity. She is ready to conceive again about three weeks later, and every three weeks after that. She is put 'in calf' again at her second or third heat, and milking continues for some 10 months after she has given birth. She is 'rested' for several weeks before the next calf arrives, then the cycle continues for as long as she can continue to produce enough milk to be a "profitable unit".
It's clear that separating a calf from his or her mother causes significant distress and suffering to both animals.
This is a 'herd management practice' used to induce the cows in the herd to calve in a short period of time—regardless of when they were mated and conceived. It requires the injection of corticosterioids by a veterinarian to prematurely trigger the birth of the calf and thereby allowing the cow to re-enter the 'milking' herd at an earlier time.
The welfare of the mother cow is often compromised (particularly if greater than 3 weeks of expected gestation) as the procedure increases the risk of mastitis, metabolic diseases, retained membranes and infection. The welfare of the prematurely born calf is also of concern as the calf may be weak, requiring special care and attention. In some cases calves might need to be immediately killed on farm (a few farmers wish to undertake this task, and may not be skilled). A veterinarian rarely attends the birth to monitor the health of cow and calf. A 2005 national survey showed that the routine use of induction in seasonal dairy herds is declining but no industry figures are made available to be able to determine how wide-spread the use of this concerning practice currently is.
The docking of cows' tails
In some 'dairy' regions, such as Gippsland in Victoria, the 'docking' (surgical amputation or using elastic rings) of a cows tail is quite common—sometimes only a small part of the tail is left intact. It is done because dairy farmers don't like to be swished in the face with a dirty tail whilst in the milking shed, and a mistaken belief that dirty tails contribute to higher bacterial contamination and perhaps higher levels of mastitis. New shed designs and research have made both reasons redundant—yet the practice still continues. A 2005 national survey found that 20% of dairy farmers routinely dock cows tails, but that the practice is declining.
Without a tail the cows are inevitably irritated by flies that they are unable to dislodge. The amputation causes immediate pain and the nerve damage to the stump may result in chronic pain. The practice is prohibited in some states, and the Model Code of Practice for cattle indicates it should only be done 'for udder health' (already discredited by research) or on a veterinarian's advice. It is likely that, where a farmer does it 'routinely', no veterinary advice is sought, nor pain relief used.More:
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