B is for…
Last Spring, at a children’s ‘story time’ session at our local library, the librarian excitedly informed the pre-school aged children that a special guest would be arriving soon.
Within minutes, I heard squeals of delight and surprise from the children –I saw a calf. Her brown eyes were wide with what I could only interpret as fear, as she was half dragged, half carried into the room by another librarian. A strong stench enveloped the room as the calf lost control of her bowels. She was placed on a rug at the front of the room, in clear view of everyone.
I could not stop staring at her – how could anyone have thought this was a good idea? The parents smiled and pointed, and the children wiggled about and gazed excitedly at the calf. We sang songs (‘cows in the kitchen, moo, moo, mooooo’) and listened to stories that featured cows. I could hear a woman repeatedly saying to her children: ‘Look at the moo!’ (‘She’s a calf’, I wanted to yell).
I couldn’t wait for the session to end. The calf looked so miserable. She was only 5 weeks old. In a world kinder than ours, she would have been suckling from her mother. I wanted to stand up and shout ‘look at her beautiful eyes, look how peaceful she is – please stop eating cows!’ But I didn’t, of course. I looked around the room, seeking to make eye contact with another parent. Is there another vegan here? Does anyone else feel empathy for the calf?
The ’story time’ calf highlights the gap between the admiration that humans feel for the ‘cuteness’ of a calf and the ability to feel true empathy for her and her kin. No doubt, some of the children and parents that patted the calf’s soft head and commented on her beauty went home to a cheese sandwich for lunch, or perhaps a veal cutlet for dinner – and did not think twice about it.
That is exactly how the dairy industry wants it.
What is a bobby calf?
According to Dairy Australia, a bobby calf is:
- aged less than 30 days old,
- usually a dairy breed or cross, and
- destined for sale or slaughter.
The ‘story time’ calf wasn’t a bobby calf – she was approximately 35 days old. I don’t know where she lived or where she was destined. I didn’t ask because I was afraid that the answer would upset me. But I do know that she wasn’t with her mother. According to my world view, baby mammals should be with their mothers.
During pregnancy, a cow’s body nourishes her unborn offspring. At the birth of her baby, her body responds as nature intends – she produces colostrum and, later, milk to nourish her newborn.
On a dairy farm, humans remove (steal) the baby from her mother shortly after birth, severing the maternal – child bond forever.
She is not permitted to nurture the baby that grew within her body. Her body, her baby and her milk do not belong to her. She will never see her baby again. Worse, this loss will happen multiple times during her life on a dairy farm.
She does not choose this. She does not willingly give up her baby.
On its web site, Dairy Australia states: ‘Calves are the foundation of our industry and enable us to continue providing you with safe, high-quality, nutritious milk and dairy foods’ (my emphasis). There is no doubt that the industry is entirely dependent on calves – cows do not lactate unless they are pregnant with, or have given birth to, a calf. Simply, the industry would not exist without calves.
So, what does the industry say about the removal of calves from their mothers?
A section on Managing Calf Welfare states: ‘ Calf welfare is improved by removing it [sic] from the cow within 12 hours of birth….’ Also, sadly, this: ‘Research suggests that separating cow and calf as early as possible reduces the stress on both as there will be minimal bonding between them’ (my emphasis). This statement would be ludicrous if it were not so callous.
I assert that within twelve hours of the births of my babies, I loved them with every fibre of my being. My body was physiologically primed to nurture them, and my heart was bursting with love and adoration. I am a mammal. Cows are mammals. It is not difficult to envisage that cows experience love and affection for their babies too.
In her book Domestic Animal Behaviour, Katherine A. Houpt discusses cow-calf bonding. She states: ‘Contact between the cow and her calf for as brief a period as five minutes postpartum 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’ (my emphasis).
It is apparent that mother-calf bonding happens very soon after birth, within minutes (rather than hours). Clearly, the industry’s assertion that only ‘minimal bonding’ occurs within the early hours of a calf’s birth, is inaccurate.
Theoretically, there are two ways of looking at the relationship between cows and their calves. Which do you think is most likely?
1. Cows feel no connection to their babies; they have no desire to nurture their offspring, and they have no compulsion to nourish their babies with milk.
2. Cows have a deep bond with their offspring, one that resembles the bond that human parents have for their offspring. When that bond is severed, they grieve and experience distress.
Cows are not inanimate objects. Their behaviour and actions suggest that they do have affection for their offspring.
Holly Cheever, Veterinarian, shares a remarkable tale of a dairy cow that actively hid her newborn calf 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 removed the calf. He was destined for a veal crate.
If we accept that a cow has a ‘strong, specific maternal bond’ with her calf, how on earth do we justify severing their relationship? Is a glass of milk worth that much?
In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!