Dairy cows housed in tie stalls on a farm in Canada.

Cows, Calves, and Ending Factory Farming



Dairy cows utilized for milk production in factory farms experience relentless suffering in a system that only seeks to exploit them.

A dairy cow’s ordeal

There are over 265 million dairy cows worldwide, producing over 6.5 million tons of milk every year. A cow would naturally produce around 264 gallons of milk for her calf over ten months. The average milk production in intensive production systems is about 2,641 gallons per cow, but a significant proportion of cows produce about 5,283 gallons per year. Milk production per cow has more than doubled in the past 40 years. In the factory farming system, cows are treated as milking machines, suffering at every step of their tragically short lives.

Life as a milk machine

For their bodies to produce extraordinary amounts of milk each day, dairy cows are fed concentrated nutrient-dense food, as their natural diet of foraging and grazing simply can’t meet their bodies’ needs. This unnatural diet can cause a metabolic condition called acidosis, resulting in diarrhea and laminitis (damage to their feet that causes lameness).

Most dairy cows will be kept indoors for part or all of the year. Some are confined to crowded conditions with cold, bare, hard floors, poor ventilation, sudden or loud noises, and difficulties accessing food and water. Cows kept on concrete floors with inadequate bedding are more likely to develop mastitis (painful inflammation and infection of their udders).

Dairy cows are forced to give birth once a year so that they can produce milk for most months of the year. Cows are usually artificially inseminated within three months of giving birth, so the cruel cycle begins again.

This all takes such a toll on their bodies that they are worn out and sometimes infertile after just three births. At around five and a half years old, they are slaughtered. This is in stark contrast to the twenty years of life a cow may naturally have.

Born to suffer

Naturally, calves suckle from their mothers for up to a year and may maintain a strong bond with her. However, on factory farms, calves are taken from their mothers within hours of birth, causing severe distress to both the cow and the calf. Because calves are separated so soon from their mothers, they often do not get enough colostrum (the “first milk”) which is crucial in helping calves develop a strong immune system. Calves normally suckle milk several times a day from their mother, but on factory farms, they may only be fed twice a day, often with milk replacers rather than cow’s milk, which can lead to digestive disorders and ulcers.

Most female dairy calves are doomed to live the same short, miserable lives as their mothers as the cycle continues. Males are considered surplus since they have no production value on dairy farms. Sadly, they may be either shot at birth or exported to low welfare veal farms.

Calves destined for the meat industry can be transported for several days over long distances. They may only be one week old--hungry, tired, scared, and vulnerable to disease and injury. Those who survive the journey are often kept in terrible conditions and slaughtered within months.

You can choose not to support the cruelty of the factory farming industry by incorporating more plant-based foods in your diet and limiting your meat and dairy intake.

You can also urge your legislators to support the Farm System Reform Act, which aims to ban factory farming and its inherent cruelty.

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