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The life of cows in dairy farms

cows factory farms

Most people consider milk to be vegetarian, but a dairy cow is amongst the worst abused animals in factory farms. She is either pregnant or lactating for most of her life. Unhygenic living conditions, loss of her calves year after year and diseases all contribute to tremendous suffering.

Living conditions

In most dairy farms, a cow is tied to a single spot for most of her life, will little space to move, turn or get up. Sanitation is typically poor, resulting in dairy cows lying in the filth of their own feaces and urine for days on end. The unhygenic conditions and lack of movement cause painful diseases of the hoof, joints and udder.

In a natural environment, cows will roam over large areas and graze in groups for upto 8 hours per day. Confinement and denial of natural instincts, lead to a number of behavioural abnormalities including bar biting, tongue rolling etc.

Female calves (read about male calves below), are tied at some distance from their mothers, denying them access to their mother and her milk (which the dairy industry believes is meant for human and not calf consumption). They are forcibly shifted to a diet of coarse grains, well before their natural weaning process is over.

Quoting from the India Development Gateway's Guidelines for Dairy Farms: "Further milk feeding is nutritious but may be more costly than feeding cereal grains. It must be understood that there is no substitute for milk in terms of nutritive value for the young calf. However, use of a milk substitute is resorted to when the availability of milk or other fluids is extremely limited." (Availability of milk being extremely limited on a dairy farm! Only the factory farming industry can make such a comment.)

Male calves: the forgotten victims of the dairy industry

A cruel fallout is that the male calf is a useless by-product for the dairy industry. He is either starved, abandoned or sent to slaughter. Mother cows are known to frantically bellow for their offspring (sometimes for many days after being seperated).

In traditional Indian tabelas, the calf is tied at some distance from the mother, but not close enough for the mother to lick, nurse or feed her calf. As the calf cries out of hunger, it increases the stress on the mother who desperately tries to reach her child but can't. The belief is that when the calf cries from hunger, the stressed mother produces more milk.

Unnatural milk production

A dairy cow produces milk to feed her young. In order to lactate, a cow must have given birth. To minimize the time when a dairy cow is unproductive (i.e. not lactating), a dairy cow is artificially impregnated within 2-3 months of her calf being borne, not giving her body the time to recuperate from a taxing child birth. This is done by bare handed handlers shoving their hands up a cows utereus and injecting the semen with a thin rod. A dairy cow is literally, either pregnant or lactating her entire life.

Though illegal in a number of countries due to adverse health implications for both human and animals, cows are often also fed rBGH hormones (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to boost milk production. When cows udders are infected due to unhygenic conditions it discharges pus, including bacteria and blood, into the milk. An allowable level of blood and pus is permitted in all milk products.

A dairy cows body is under consistent strain, as a result of constantly being in a pregnant / lactating state, unnatural feedstocks, growth hormones & anti-biotics and the strain that occurs due to unnaturally high levels of milking. A cows natural lifespan averages 20 years of age, but most dairy cows are so sick and exhausted by the age of 5-6 years, that they are considered 'spent' and taken for slaughter.

Body mutilations

Dairy cows are exposed to a variety of body mutilations. These are typically done without any pain killers or veterinary care, causing significant pain and discomfort for the animal.

Disbudding & Dehorning: To prevent frustrated animals from using their horns against other cows or humans, dairy cows are typically de-horned at an early age (6 months of earlier). 'Disbudding' involves the calf's horn buds being burnt or cut out of their heads using either searing hot irons, caustic chemicals, blades or hand saws. Dehorning in mature cattle usually requires amputation of the horn, which has already attached itself to the skull.

Branding: To mark cows for identification, dairy farmers restrain the animals and press hot fire irons into their flesh, causing 3rd degree burns.


Cows suffer painful diseases including

Mastitis: Cuts to the udders caused by milking machines, get infected due to unhygenic conditions causing mastitis. It is a painful inflammation & infection of the udder, which is potentially fatal. Mastitis also forces distortions to a cow's pelvis and spine, due her hind legs being forced apart by the inflated udder.

Milk Fever: This ailment is caused by calcium deficiency, and it occurs when milk secretion depletes calcium faster than it can be replenished in the blood. This leads to significant calcium deficiencies in cow bones, exposing them to fractures.

Laminitis: Laminitis is inflammation of the corium - the soft tissue between the hoof walls/sole on the outside of claw, and the pedal bone within the claw. Caused by unnatural protein-rich feedstock, this leads to lameness.

Learned Helplessness: An animal experiencing chronic, unavoidable, psychological stress may develop learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a developed generalised apathy. It is expressed as an overall decrease in responsiveness towards all stimuli and a lack of interest in the surroundings.


Cows that are transported by truck, are forced onto trucks and crammed in so tightly, that most cows have not more than an inch to move for journeys that last many hours to days. They are forced to remain standing in a single position, over all kinds of road and weather conditions. Inadvertently, a cows horns can injure others cows including eye gourged out, broken ribs and fractures.

In India, a number of states have outlawed the slaughter of cows, as they are considered sacred. They are smuggled to states where slaughtering them is legal or outside the Indian border to countries like Bangladesh. At points where there may be checks, the cows are forced out of the truck and made to walk distances of hundreds of kilometres. Cows exhausted from years of abuse on a dairy farm, are often unable to make such a long journey.

To make exhausted fallen cows keep walking, handlers routinely twist their tails or rub chilli powder into their eyes, to aggravate the cow into continuing to move. Cows that do not survive this journey are abandoned and left to die.


Cows are dragged into filthy slaughterhouses where they are made to stand in the accumulated blood, excreta and organs of previous animals slaughtered before they are killed. Often they are made to stand under the butchered body parts of other animals with blood dropping on them. The cows watch helplessly and terrified, as their companions are slaughtered in front of them.

Being a large animal, a cows needs to be held down to be slaughtered. They are dragged off balance by grabbing them by their legs and being overturned. Once down being held down by the weight of humans who sit on it. A knife, often blunted by overuse, is used to cut the jugular vein. The animal dies by being bled out. In modern slaughter processing houses, cows are killed in automated assembly line operations, where they are made to hang upside down are taken from the station to station, before having their necks slit.

In a hurry to process as many cows to increase profits, stunning and slitting of their necks is often done carelessly. This leads to cows being dismembered and skinned before they lose consicousness.