TODAY'S FARM ANIMALS
THE INSIDE STORY
THE DAIRY COW
THE DAIRY COW'S HARD GRIND
The dairy cow's life is one round of hard work. Prematurely worn out by physical and mental stress, most are slaughtered when around six or seven years old. Under good conditions a cow can live to be twenty.
The modern dairy cow - pushed far beyond her natural biological limits. Photo: FAWN
HER EXHAUSTING DOUBLE ROLE
The modern dairy cow produces a high yield of milk even while heavily pregnant. Then once a year she has a calf, and must suffer the acute distress of separation from her offspring, often only 12-24 hours after giving birth.
UNNATURAL DEMANDS ON THE DAIRY COW
Traditionally, a cow's udder holds approximately two litres of milk at any one time. The modern dairy cow's? A staggering ten litres! No wonder that huge udders distort her walking to such an extent that much lameness results. This, plus poor housing (especially in winter) and diseases such as laminitis account for the estimated 50% of lameness in UK dairy cows.
John Webster, Professor of Animal Husbandry at Bristol University, has written: "To understand the pain of laminitis it helps to imagine crushing all your fingernails in the door then standing on your fingertips. "
The unnatural stresses imposed on the modern dairy cow, plus unhygienic practices in the milking parlour, contribute to a high incidence of mastitis. Mastitis is painful, and involves injecting antibiotics into teats. " The principal signs (of mastitis) are swelling and heat in the affected gland and changes in milk, which may become watery or pus-like in consistency. In the early stages of the disease small clots in the milk may be the only sign ... Treatment entails regularly drawing off accumulated pus from the infected teat canal. "
(Oxford Concise Veterinary Dictionary)
THE WINTER MONTHS
Dairy cows are kept indoors for the winter months. This is often a time when severe lameness develops. It's also the time for overcrowding and boredom. Many cubicles (where the cow spends most of her time) are too small for the modern breed of cow. resulting in the hindfeet spending hours in the slurry passage - a sure recipe for foot damage. There is even a move towards "zero grazing", when the dairy cow is kept indoors permanently - surely a grossly cruel form of exploitation and deprivation.
MUTILATIONS AND SURGICAL PROCEDURES
DISBUDDING AND DEHORNING
Most cattle have their horns removed. Disbudding (when horn-forming tissues are killed off by a hot iron) and dehorning (when existing horns are removed by a saw or other sharp device) are both operations which cause pain. The law states that a local anaesthetic must be used, but pain may persist for days.
Cattle breeders and farmers are forever looking for methods of maximising output and profit. For example, embroyo transfer (ET) may result in cows giving birth to calves which are in effect too large for the 'host' mother's birth canal. It's not hard to imagine the welfare problems associated with this move towards higher profit margins - the more lightly-built cow has difficult and painful calvings, and Caesareans become more common. Some veterinarians believe that repeated Caesareans cause chronic abdominal pain.
These are the cows and bulls reared first and foremost for their meat. Approximately half of the beef consumed in the UK comes from systems where calves are allowed to suckle either from their own mother or a shared foster mother. The young animals benefit from maternal care and comfort and the cows avoid the pain and deformities caused by over-full udders. The other half of the national beef herd is made up from male calves born to dairy-type cows, and these are reared artificially, on "second hand" milk, that is reconstituted milk powder.
Thankfully, the rearing of calves for all their lives in highly restrictive crates is now outlawed in the UK, and the worst excesses of this system will be illegal in the rest of the EU from the year 2007. Nevertheless, it's still legal to confine young calves in individual stalls for the first few weeks of their lives, to minimise cross-infection. So despite improvements, many calves suffer loneliness and boredom when at their most vulnerable.
Those calves not wanted for dairy herd replacements or for the beef industry are slaughtered when just a few days old, born merely to keep their mothers' milk supply on target for the daily "pinta".
At markets, animals are exposed to stress, fear and exhaustion. Research reported in Veterinary Record (February 10th 1996) has indicated that a large proportion of cattle suffer bruising following their ordeals during loading (at the farm), transport and during time spent in markets - damage caused by blows from farmers, hauliers and market personnel. The worn-out dairy cow is the victim of the worst violence, and may suffer internal as well as external bruising.
At the time of writing (Spring 1998) British cattle are not allowed to be exported, because of the BSE crisis. Prior to this ban (introduced in March 1996) cattle were sent abroad, often on long and arduous journeys ending in foreign slaughterhouses. Each year, around 500,000 calves were being exported to the infamous veal crates of Holland and France.
In theory, cattle are stunned into unconsciousness before being bled to death. However, concern has been expressed among some scientists that inadequate stunning in British slaughterhouses leads to cattle suffering.
Due to physiological differences, calves can take longer than adult cattle to bleed to death, so accepted procedures in slaughterhouses may A result in especial suffering for these young animals.
Twenty year old cow "adopts" a calf at Hillside Animal Sanctuary. Photo: İHAS 4
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