Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment


The humble, graceful cow is a noble being that has selflessly given itself to humanity through countless ages in all nations and cultures.

Research conducted by Professor Christine Nicol at Bristol University in the United Kingdom showed that cows have a strong, complex emotional life, feeling pain, fear and anxiety and also worrying about the future just as we do.

The study also found similar results for other animals such as chickens and goats.

Professor John Webster, also of Bristol University, has documented how cows form friendships with one another. 



How they are treated

In modern times, to obtain high yields of milk at low cost and optimal efficiency, the cow has been turned into a piece of machinery, whose sole purpose in life is to produce milk.

Let’s look now at the dairy industry’s standard for milk production, bearing in mind that this is a factual account of the agricultural process and not a presentation of isolated incidents.

To produce milk a female cow must be made pregnant so as to lactate to feed her offspring. Thus at the tender age of 15 months female dairy cows are forced into pregnancy through artificial insemination. This process is extremely painful for the animals, as inexperienced farm workers often restrain the animals in a "rape rack" as it is known in the industry and use a metal rod to forcefully inseminate them.

An even more painful method of inducing pregnancy that has become increasingly popular is embryo implantation, in which embryos are grown in one cow and physically implanted in another.

A cow’s gestation period is nine months, the same as that of humans. After a calf is born, if it is female, she is raised as a dairy cow; if it is male he may be slaughtered on site with a sledgehammer and then its blood is drained or it is taken away to be turned into veal. The separation of mother and calf is extremely distressing to both; cries are often heard as mother and child call after one another.

Milk, anyone?

The lactating mother cow is then chained by its neck and kept in a confined shed that allows it virtually no movement. There is no grazing on green grass, but instead these natural herbivores are fed high-protein pellet mixtures containing material from other dead animals including cows. So not only are dairy cows turned into carnivores but cannibals as well. This roughage-free and pathogen-filled diet often causes cows to become malnourished and can cause brain-rotting diseases such as mad-cow disease or BSE.

Young dairy cows then have vacuum machines attached to their teats or udders, and their milk is painfully sucked out. Dairy cows are milked 365 days a year, and in order to get Holstein dairy cows to lactate year round they are continually kept pregnant, meaning that two to three months after giving birth they are painfully impregnated again and this process continues for the rest of their short lives.

To boost production further, the cows are also injected with bovine growth hormone, which could cause birth defects and even various cancers in humans. Current methods mean that Holsteins produce ten times as much milk as they would normally, or approximately 100 pounds per day. This inappropriately high level of milk production and the methods of obtaining it leave the animals extremely sick and prone to both bacterial and viral infections.

Other conditions that these poor creatures often suffer from are milk fever caused by a lack of calcium, which also leads to osteoporosis, meaning that the cows often suffer from broken bones just from walking or slipping. The most common affliction affecting 50% of all dairy herds is chronic mastitis, a painful, sore infection of the udder. However, the cows are still milked, causing blood and pus from their infections to end up in the milk consumed by humans.

Up to 750-million pus cells per liter have been measured in milk products. To try to reduce this condition, the cows are pumped full of antibiotics. Also, the udders of dairy cows get so disproportionately large that their hind legs are permanently spread, causing lameness. The animals are continuously prodded with electrical rods in order to get them to move back to urinate and excrete in gutters.

Thus dairy cows’ living conditions are extremely unhygienic and cause foot rot and other diseases. The natural life span of a dairy cow is 25 years under normal conditions but under current factory-farming methods this span is reduced to three to five years. So what happens when a dairy cow is no longer useful? The answer is, it is turned into ground beef for burgers and other such reconstituted meat products.

Veal: Baby cows

What most consumers don’t realize is that one of the by-products of the dairy industry, veal, is probably one of the cruelest meats available. After a dairy cow gives birth, the calf or baby cow, is immediately removed from the mother, although some producers wait a day before tearing offspring away.

The calf may then be raised for either beef or veal. If it is to become the latter, it is kept in a veal crate, an extremely restrictive box measuring two feet across, where the calf cannot stand, move or turn around.

To further restrict movement, the necks of these young creatures are restrained with chains. These methods prevent muscle growth so that the meat is tender. The calves are also fed on a milk substitute lacking iron and fiber so as to induce anemia, meaning that the flesh will be whiter and thus more desirable when sold to restaurants.

Typically a calf sold as “white” veal will be slaughtered at the young age of four to six months. Some calves are killed after only a few hours or days and this is known as “Bob” veal. 

Operations conducted on young calves include castration of males, disbudding or removal of the horns and tail docking, a process by which the tails are cut off so that they don’t get chewed.


Beef cattle

The treatment of cows for beef production typically covers many of the methods that are used on dairy cows and calves. The cattle are branded repeatedly with a searing hot iron which inflicts third degree burns.

Not only this, but the males are also castrated and de-horned, usually by untrained individuals under unhygienic conditions without painkillers in order to keep the costs down.

The cows live crammed together in feedlots, walking around in their own waste. They are fed on a mixture of corn and fillers, which include discarded animal parts, excrement and even saw dust.

This diet often leads to sickness but again they are pumped full of medicines and antibiotics to keep them alive until they are big and meaty enough to be sent to the slaughterhouse to suffer the same fate as dairy cows.

Transport and slaughter

Whether beef cattle or non-productive dairy cows, eventually they are separated from the herd using electric prods to be loaded onto trucks. This experience is very frightening for the animals, with many being so weak that they do not survive the ride to the slaughterhouse and others end up with broken legs or spines.

Cows that cannot walk off the truck are dragged out using chains and are just simply left to die, distressed and writhing in agonizing pain. The rest of the herd is forced in single file onto 60-meter ramps. Inside the slaughterhouse, a cow enters a stunning box where her head is restrained and then a metal bolt is fired from a gun into her skull. This method of stunning is often ineffective and may have to be repeated two or three times.

The cow is then chained by the leg and hoisted upside down onto a moving belt and then bled to death by the slitting of the carotid arteries in the neck. Often cows that are electronically stunned regain consciousness and are fully aware as they bleed to death.

While they are suspended, their blood often fills their nasal and throat cavities, causing them to choke. Some cows that are slaughtered are still pregnant and due to their distress give birth prematurely. The fetal calves are then pulled to the side and slaughtered separately, their skin is sold as suede, which fetches a premium price for its softness. The fetal calf blood is also extracted and used by the pharmaceutical and related industries to create cell cultures for experimentation.

Not one part of the cow is discarded: the lips, tongue, fat, tail, organs, esophagus and other parts are used for human food. The tonsils and trachea are used in pet food. The fat and bones are used to make gelatins and glues while the tendons, adrenals, uterus, blood, gall bladder and lungs are used by the pharmaceutical industry. The placenta is used in cosmetics while the skin is cleaned, treated and turned into leather for clothes and bags.





Although this may all seem too much there is a way to stop this needless cruelty and to allow these beautiful and sensitive animals to live happy and fulfilling lives. The choice is made by deciding what to put on your plate, by choosing a plant based compassionate vegan diet.

More people worldwide, each year are going veg, in the UK alone more than 7% of the population are vegetarian and thousands join the veggie club each week. By saying “no” to meat you are saying “yes” to life and you are showing in action your love for animals. So please help to protect all life by eating a healthy life-affirming vegetarian meal that not only is good for your health but is also good for the planet.

Click here to find out how you can help!

Click here to go back to the factory farming section or read more about other issues regarding animals.










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