Cows are raised and processed across several distinct industries, all of which, in the U.S., rely heavily on factory farming. Cows suffer greatly in the beef, dairy and veal industries.
- Cows can live to 25 years, but beef cows are generally killed at just one to three years of age.
- While beef cows begin their lives grazing on pasture, most spend their final months standing in their own waste in a barren feedlot devoid of pasture or shelter.
- On feedlots, beef cows often suffer from severe digestive disorders caused by the unnatural diet they are forced to consume.
Cows raised for meat are the only factory farmed animals still raised largely outdoors. However, this does not mean they have easy or pain-free lives. They are branded and castrated without painkillers, may have their horns removed without painkillers, and live outdoors amid all weather extremes.
Between the ages of six months and one year, beef cows are sent to live their last few months in feedlots with hundreds or even thousands of others. Without pasture and often without shelter, the cows must stand in their own waste, and sometimes mud and ice. To increase their weight, they are fed an unnatural grain diet that is very hard on their bodies, causing illness, pain and sometimes death.
- Today’s dairy cows each produce about 100 pounds of milk per day—10 times more than cows living just a few decades ago. This is due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets and being bred selectively for massive milk production.
- 75% of downed animals are dairy cows.
- About 9 million cows are being used for milk production in the United States at any given time.
Most cows used for dairy production are kept indoors, with some having access to outdoor concrete or dirt paddocks. They are often forced to stand on hard surfaces—something their hooves are not designed for. This contributes to lameness, a condition where cows’ feet become inflamed, making it painful to walk.
Additionally, cows in the dairy industry are forced to suffer through:
Widespread Infections: Unnaturally high milk production leads to mastitis, a painful bacterial infection causing a cow’s udder to swell. In 2007, 79% of farms that reported permanently removing cows from their herds did so because of mastitis.
Surgical Mutilation: Dairy cows often have up to two-thirds of their tails surgically removed without painkillers. Producers believe the udder stays cleaner this way, even though this theory has been disproven. The cows are also dehorned (have their horns cut or burned off), generally without painkillers.
Separation of Mother and Baby: Just as with humans, cows only produce milk as a side effect of giving birth. Their milk is meant for their young. To keep the milk flowing, dairy farms artificially inseminate cows once a year. Their gestation period lasts nine months, so the majority of dairy cows’ lives are spent pregnant. When a calf is born, he or she is removed from the mother—generally that same day—to make the mother’s milk available for collection. Male offspring are often raised for veal, while females become the next generation of dairy cows.
While large-scale dairy operations are typically separate from beef cattle operations, these industries are connected. Dairy cows usually meet their ends at beef slaughterhouses when, at just two to five years of age, their milk production has slowed or they are too crippled or ill to continue in the industry. At that point, they are slaughtered for beef.
- The unwanted male offspring of dairy cows are often raised to produce veal.
- Veal calves are generally taken from their mothers within a day of birth.
- Veal calves’ diets and movements are tightly restricted to keep their muscles from developing, which makes the resulting meat tender.
Veal is the meat of young male cows born to dairy cows. As males, veal calves are of little use to the dairy industry, and as a dairy breed, they are inefficient beef producers.
Traditional veal meat was made pale and tender by restricting calves’ diets and keeping them in stalls so small they could barely move. Increasingly, calves are housed untethered in groups beginning at about six weeks old, but they still lack sufficient space, outdoor exercise, solid food and even the fulfillment of a most basic instinct: the need to suckle.
At an age when they would normally be nurtured and protected by their mother, the calves are forced to live alone with no physical contact with other cows. And while calves normally explore their world by grazing, playing and socializing, factory farmed veal calves are generally kept indoors with few if any environmental enrichments.