I've decided to go vegan for Lent and I plan on sticking to it even after Easter. A few days ago, while I was talking about my choice to go vegan, I was presented with this question: "Why is milk not vegan?" A valid question. When I said "Well, it comes from animals and vegans don't consume any sort of animal products," the person then explained that cows produce milk all the time and if humans don't milk the cow then it causes them pain, so we're doing the humane thing by milking them. I know the dairy industry is horribly cruel, but I didn't know the science behind milk production.
This piqued my curiousity. Do cows produce milk all the time? Only after birth? I honestly didn't know. So I've done some research on the subject.
First and foremost, the vast majority of our milk supply comes from dairy cows raised in factory farms. These are not "happy cows" as the advertisements will lead you to believe. They are not prancing in fields, eating sweet grass, or rearing their young. Cows would not produce milk if they were not pregnant or nursing their babies. This means that dairy cows need to be kept pregnant all the time and have their babies taken away at a very young age.
|Cull dairy cow with untreated mastitis just sold at a|
slaughterhouse auction in Ontario.
Cows in factory farms are artifically inseminated. They are given growth hormones to increase milk production and are milked often to produce up to 10 times more milk than they would normally produce in nature. These growth hormones are illegal in almost all developed countries, except for the United States. Most factory farmed dairy cows often develop mastitis (a potentially fatal mammary gland infection and the most common disease in dairy cattle in the USA. It is also the most costly to the dairy industry -- approx $1.7 to $2 billion a year) and it is usually contracted by coming in contact with contaminated milking machines (yes, there isn't a happy little farmer milking these cows -- it's a machine). Here's some food for thought:
This just goes to show that while we're using fewer cows, we're using more hormones to produce more milk and working our cows harder than ever. How much of a strain must that be on all these cows?
The typical gestation period for a pregnant cow is roughly nine months. After the calf is born, it is taken away shortly after. The male calves usually become veal and are kept in cramped crates where they can't even turn around or lay down. Their muscles are so weak they usually cannot walk. Female calves are typically raised to become dairy cows. The mother and the baby experience significant stress when they are torn from each other so soon after the birth. I highly recommend you watch this video that gives you insight into the lives of dairy cows and veal calves.
A normal cow lives an average of about 20 years. However, factory farmed dairy cows only live about four years. They often become lame and when they are no longer an asset to the dairy industry, they are then sold to the slaughterhouse to become beef. In 2009, 19% of the US beef supply came from cull dairy cows.
So while the act of drinking milk may not be killing the animal itself, you can bet that the cow whose milk you're drinking will have their babies ripped from them and end up in the slaughterhouse. And that is why cow's milk is not vegan.