A Cow’s Milk Is Not Yours to Take
I wrote this last year. I’m giving myself permission to repost it here. As Mother’s Day approaches, I feel it is all the more pertinent.
I am struck by how much we, women especially, ignore or are ignorant of how female farmed animals are treated – the manipulation of reproduction, the forced separation of mother and offspring, all the ways we shape, mold, break females to suit our needs.
This never appeared to me more powerfully than the first time I helped a cow give birth. I have no biological children, so I have no point of reference on what it must be like. There is obviously an intimate connection, the sharing of food and life, but there is that line of separation made most obvious when the infant is so rudely introduced to the world. It all seems so uncomfortable, these months of waiting, belly growing, nourishing this other life. But with few exceptions, the day of birth appears, to all involved, a momentous, dramatic event usually ending with all parties exhausted, but content.
Back to the cow. She was in hard labor, stuck with an oversized calf who just did not want to leave. I could not blame the calf too much. I was asked to help pull this unknowingly stubborn baby from the womb. And I did, literally pulling on tiny hooves and perfect calf legs. Out popped a slimy mostly bovine-looking creature. The birth was shocking for me, though I’m certain not nearly as much as for either cow or calf.
The calf was whisked away. Away from his mother, from his clan, from those nine months of calf certainty that when he was born, he would be born into something, a world with a mother, with milk. Instead he was carted off. Though only moments old, he sensed the wrongness of this separation and attempted to cry, a strangled sound. His exhausted mother struggled to stand, took a deep breath and screamed. It was an ear-piercing bellow. She attempted to follow her calf, to provide what a mother provides – nourishment, grooming, comfort. She was blocked by gates and people, by space and by unyielding greed for what rightfully belonged to her calf, her milk.
Everything done to a dairy cow is a stripping away of her essence. Her choice in a mate is denied, she is artificially inseminated. Her choice of when to mate is taken from her, she is “synched” to breed with the other cows in the herd. Nearly every single dairy calf is removed from his or her mother the day they are born. She is even denied motherhood. We must add insult to injury by taking control over her milk source, her udder. She is milked on our schedule and bred to produce the amount and type of milk we like. Then, in a cruel twist, we take her milk and use it for ourselves and our children. Milk that nurtures the growth of a frolicksome calf, milk that is given and received on a natural cycle of hunger and satiation, milk that is bovine, not human.
I never gave it much consideration until that heart-wrenching moment of mother lost, child gone. It hit me so hard I could not intentionally drink milk again. As a woman who wants nothing more than to be in control of my own body, of my own decisions and choices, how could I ever deny that to another female? Whether she is bovine or caprine or human, it does not matter. What we take is hers to give and given the choice between feeding a human or her own flesh and blood calf, I think the answer is quite obvious.
Which is why I implore, beg, demand, people to seek out dairy alternatives, to stop being part of this system that exploits what should be a beautiful bond between cow and calf and turns it into profit margins. If not for yourself, then for the cows and calves. Think of Sadie (right ) who gave birth to seven calves and never nursed one, who was tossed aside when she developed an udder infection, whose only worth was in how much milk she produced, how many calves she dropped and not in her intelligence, beauty, engaging personality or her love for other cows. If not Sadie, then think of Freedom, Summer and Nicholas, the boy dairy calves whose first experience of the world was a coldness, a separation, a movement from a warm, soothing womb to the cruel auction block and slaughter. They cannot ask in words to stop drinking milk, but I think they ask with their stories, their clear desire to be a calf in a calf’s world, a mother in a mother’s world, and not beef, milk, veal in ours.