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Why these mothers are opposed to the dairy industry

Calves-intro-200With Mother’s Day approaching in the US and Australia, Alison Waters speaks to mothers about their opposition to an industry that profits from the severing of the maternal-child bond: the dairy industry.

12 April 2017

Robyn Chuter has vivid recollections of the “joy and delight” she experienced while snuggling with her babies during breastfeeding. Although her children are now aged 12 and 16, Chuter, a Sydney-based Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner, has fond memories of gazing into the “blissed-out faces” of her babies as they cooed and smiled up at her.

“Like all mothers I’ve spoken to, the experience of bringing new life into the world changed me forever as a person”, Chuter tells The Scavenger. “I can reflect on this experience in a way that is unique to humans, as far as we know, but I don’t fool myself that this experience is uniquely human”. Chuter asserts that “a cocktail of powerful hormones and other brain chemicals” conspire to ensure that mammals protect their offspring and “fall deeply in love with them”. 

“In that sense, a mother cow is a mother human is a mother of any mammalian species”, insists Chuter.

Like humans, cows experience a nine-month pregnancy. A cow’s body responds as nature intends – she produces colostrum and, later, milk to nourish her newborn. But, the widespread consumption of cows’ milk by humans means that many cows are denied the opportunity to raise and feed their calves.

On a dairy farm, humans forcibly separate the calf from his or her mother shortly after birth, severing the maternal-child bond forever.

Her calf’s milk is taken for human consumption, and she is prohibited from nurturing the baby that grew within her body.

Her body, her baby and her milk do not belong to her.

The loss of a newly born calf will happen many times during her life on a dairy farm.

Chuter regards the severing of the mother-calf bond as “unconscionable”. She views it as “a betrayal of our common bond as mammals who are deeply and powerfully driven to nurture our young”.

This sentiment is shared by Renee Barker, a mother of two young children who resides in Brisbane, Australia.

“Calves being isolated from their mothers is demonstrably traumatic for both mother and child, just like it is for all mammals who care for their young”, she tells The Scavenger.

Barker draws links between the commodification of human female bodies and the exploitation of female non-human animals.

“Female animals are very specifically exploited for their reproductive capacities and forced into a constant cycle of pregnancy and milk production until their bodies wear out at an adolescent age that is far from their natural lifespan”.

In its in-depth report of the Australian dairy industry, “The Life of the Dairy Cow”, animal protection organisation Voiceless poses the question: Do we expect too much of the modern dairy cow?

The report exposes the industry-driven fantasy of cows frolicking in green pastures excitedly anticipating their milking, and reveals that these “deeply maternal animals” are “subjected to a continuous cycle of calving, milking and impregnation”.

On the topic of cow-calf separation, the Australian body for dairy farmers and industry, Dairy Australia, recommends the removal of calves “from their dams within 12 hours of birth to minimise risk of disease transfer and lower the stress for both cow and calf”. 

Dairy cows are prevented from expressing their maternal and nursing behaviours when their newborns are forcibly removed from their care.

Mother-licking-calf-300Katherine A. Houpt, James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine - emeritus at Cornell University’s  College of Veterinary Medicine, discusses cow-calf bonding in her text for veterinarians and animal scientists,  Domestic Animal Behaviour.

Houpt states that “contact between the cow and her calf for as brief a period as five minutespostpartum results in the formation of a strong, specific maternal bond. Cows groom their calves during the early postpartum period…Licking the calf occupies up to half the cow’s time during the first hour postpartum”.

Voiceless’s report also cites research indicating that dairy cows are impacted by separation from their calves.

Cows display behaviours that demonstrate they are experiencing stress, including “restlessness, sniffing, increased vocalisations and activities that would naturally serve to reunite the cow and calf upon separation”.

Similarly, a 2014 study cited in the report concludes that calves are “emotionally impacted by separation” from their mothers.

A new song about the fate of dairy cows and their offspring is set for release in time for Mother’s Day in Australia. Titled “Mother and Child”, the song was co-written by animal rights campaigner and vegan, Elizabeth Usher (AKA MC Pony) and songwriter James Donnelly.

“We wanted to paint the picture of the typical idyllic rural pasture image that we are encouraged to believe is the norm for all farmed animals” Usher tells the Scavenger. “The whole first verse and chorus are a positive framing of the birth of a new calf, and the bond between the mother cow and her baby”.

Inevitably, the calf and mother are separated. The lyric “industrial waste with a beating heart” highlights the fact that “bobby calves” are regarded as waste products and are slaughtered within the first week of their lives.

Voiceless’s report states that as many as 800,000 newly born bobby calves are slaughtered annually in Australia. They are mostly male calves, but the term also refers to female calves who are regarded as “unsuitable” for milk production.

The mothers who spoke to The Scavenger empathised with the suffering that cows endure upon the forcible removal of their young.

After the birth of each of her babies, Chuter experienced nightmares in which her newborn was taken from her. In her conversations with other mothers, she discovered that this fear is not uncommon. “But my nightmare was just that – a bad dream that I was able to shake off once I awoke. Mother dairy cows live this nightmare every time they give birth”.

Liz, a performer, writer and mother who resides in the Blue Mountains region of Australia, avoided dairy products prior to starting a family. However, she asserts that the births of her two children gave her “a deeper understanding of the pain the mothers and babies must feel being torn apart... If that happened to me, it would be unbearable”.

She affirms that her role as a mother ensures that she cannot support the industry’s “absolutely barbaric practice” of severing the mother-calf bond. “If someone dared to try and take my children away, I would raise hell”, insists Liz.

Barker finds it impossible to disregard the suffering of “intelligent mothers” who are subjected to a cycle of “childbirth and loss that is inconceivably cruel”.

Holly Cheever, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, shares a remarkable tale of a dairy cow she encountered during her early career as a veterinarian in the state of New York. The mother cow birthed twins and actively hid one of her newborn calves to prevent a farmer from removing him from her care. Sadly, despite the pleas of Cheever and the tenacity of the mother cow, the farmer forcibly removed the calf. He was destined for a veal crate.

In her account of this event, Cheever states: “there is a lot more going on behind those beautiful eyes than we humans have ever given them credit for, and as a mother who was able to nurse all four of my babies and did not have to suffer the agonies of losing my beloved offspring, I feel her pain”.

The Mothers Against Dairy campaign implores people not to patronage the ‘mother-exploiting’ dairy industry. The campaign features heartfelt accounts written by mothers, expressing their opposition to an industry that separates newly born babies from their mothers.

One contributor to the campaign, Northern California resident Megan Ferreira, argues that dairy farming is ‘fundamentally an invasion of motherhood”. She laments the fact that something that has brought her so much delight is “a source of torture, deprivation, exploitation and, ultimately, death” for dairy cows.

Chuter believes that there isn’t “a mother on this planet who could not relate to the suffering these gentle animals endure”.

If we accept that a cow has a ‘strong, specific maternal bond’ with her calf, how on earth do we justify permanently severing their relationship?

Is a glass of milk really worth that?

Alison Waters is a freelance writer based in Northern NSW, Australia

MC Pony’s Australian launch of “Mother and Child” will take place in Sydney on 22 April at a fundraising event for Animal Liberation NSW. The event “Dairy Truths and Music for the Animal Liberation Movement” features guest speaker Lynda Stoner, CEO of Animal Liberation NSW, who will discuss the group’s long-standing campaigns against the dairy industry.

The event, featuring diverse musical performances and a magician/mentalist, is a celebration of non-dairy options, with samples of chocolates and cheeses available. For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, go here:

Images from top: Two calves, courtesy of Alison Waters; Cow licking calf courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur/Animal Equality (via the We Animals Archive).


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