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With many people now buying milk, cheese and other dairy products at local farmers' markets -- directly from the farmers themselves -- it is easy to be misled into believing that the animals who produced the milk are free of the pain and suffering inherent in factory farming.
Simply because the cows were fed organic feed or allowed to graze on grass without pesticides or weren't forced to ingest hormones or antibiotics like their sisters on conventional farms, does not mean they weren't abused.
Below is a list of questions to ask your local dairy farmer, or seller, about their operation. These questions will allow you to make more informed decisions on where, or how, you spend your money.
Do your cows eat grass or are they fed organic feed?
Cows have evolved over millions of years to eat almost nothing but grass. Farmers feed cows grains in order for them to gain weight or so they produce more and/or sweeter milk. Grains are hard for cows to digest and lead to chronic digestive problems.
Another reason a farmer might feed their cows grains is because the cows are confined and have no access to fields or grass. Have you ever driven past feed lots with cows crammed together, standing in their own waste, with no grass in sight? Well that could easily be an organic dairy farm.
Do you separate the baby calves from their mothers?
Virtually all commercial dairy farms take the baby calves away from their mothers within a few days of giving birth. Separating a mother and her baby is an extremely traumatizing experience for the mother and her newborn. The reason farmers take the baby away is so they can steal the mother's milk that was intended for her child.
Many times a mother cow will call out for days trying to find her stolen calf. The sound of a grief stricken mother cow for her calf is heart breaking. Perhaps ask the farmer about that?
If the farmer claims that they don't separate the mother and calf, I'd be skeptical. Ask how it is financially feasible to run a dairy farm that way?
What do you do with all the male calves born on your farm?
Because male animals don't produce milk, they are virtually worthless to dairy farmers. Only one bull is needed at a time in most dairy farms, but since almost half of all calves born will be male, what happens to them? Most dairy farms sell male calves to crated veal farms where the calf will be chained or tied up, placed usually in a dark wooden crate or another tight spot to restrict movement, and fed an iron-deficient liquid diet so that when he is slaughtered several months later, his meat is pale in color.
If they aren't sold to a crated veal operation, they more than likely will be sold or raised as Rose-veal. Rose-veal only differs from crated veal in that the calves aren't restricted as much (although they usually remain tethered) and have access to sunlight.
What do you do when a cow's milk production slows down?
Most dairy farmers will slaughter cows after four years, or when their milk production begins to drop. Farmers want the most profitable animals possible and therefore don't wish to keep around cows that produce less milk. Dairy cows are usually sold to slaughterhouses and are ground up into hamburger meat at four years old, even though many can easily live longer than 20 years. If a farmer claims they keep all their older cows and/or bulls, they must have a tremendous amount of money and land, since keeping nonproductive animals is extremely costly, as any farm sanctuary can confirm.
Ultimately what it comes down to is the fact that cows don't produce milk for humans to drink; they make milk for their babies, just as every other mammal does. Dairy farming is inherently an abusive industry because it imprisons animals and forcibly takes what does not belong to us.
Drinking cows' milk is also a rather perverse act when thought about. Drinking the lactation of another species is strange enough. But to drink the milk of a 1,000 lb, non-primate animal, completely covered in hair and who eats grass, is even stranger. Any claim that drinking cows' milk is "natural" should be met with great suspicion.
To make your life simpler and spare the lives of dairy cows, skip the cows' milk, cheese and butter and eat plant-based "milks" instead.