Dairy Cows - Photo © Twyla Francois

Dairy cows

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There is intense pressure on modern dairy cows in Canada to produce high volumes of milk for human consumption and they have been bred to be high-producing. To do so, cows must produce a calf annually. Following the birth, the calf – as young as a few hours old – is removed from the cow so the milk can be used by humans. This premature separation causes distress to both cow and calf.

To become pregnant, the heifer cow is artificially inseminated at age fifteen months, for a nine-month pregnancy. Following the birth, the cow is again inseminated a few months later. The cow must provide milk for use in yogurt, cheese, ice cream, butter and table milk during seven months of her next pregnancy.

Intensive milking, large udders and confinement can cause physical ailments, including swollen udders, with mastitis, a common bacterial infection of the udder, and lameness. Though cows can live to 25 years, the pressure on them to produce high volumes of milk can burn them out after as few as three lactations.

Though the number of dairy farms in Canada continues to decrease, milk production is increasing annually. The high-energy food given to cows to increase milk production can cause metabolic disorders that can cause lameness and even death.

When milk production decreases or the cow’s fertility decreases, she is referred to as a “cull cow” and is shipped to slaughter where her body is turned into hamburger.

Of particular concern is the growing number of unfit “cull cows” being transported to livestock markets. Cull animals are those considered no longer productive. When animals cannot walk (non-ambulatory) or are unfit for transport due to injury or ill health, they should be euthanized on farm. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) compromised animal policy is clear: they should not be transported.

Click here for CFIA’s Compromised Animal Policy.

Click here to download CCFA’s open letter to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, published in the November 18, 2008 issue of Ontario Farmer (PDF).

Click here to see Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s response (PDF).

Report on improved treatment of dairy cows and calves, courtesy of Eyes on Animals, based in Amsterdam, April 2015.

Eyes on Animals, an Amsterdam-based sister organization, shared this video about allowing new-born dairy calves to remain with their mothers for long periods following birth.  Canadian practice is to remove the calf from the mother cow only hours after birth, never to be re-united.