Is it OK To Drink Milk & Eat Beef If You Care About The Animals?

Is it OK To Drink Milk & Eat Beef If You Care About The Animals?

(image credit: Kabsik Park)

Is it ok to drink milk and eat beef from an animal welfare perspective? Here’s what I’ll be covering today. Before I get started let me clarify something important:

If you’re uncomfortable with death, or if you disagree with it, then please be a vegetarian and skip this article. Today I’m not going to answer the ethical question of whether animals need to die to become our food. I’ll bypass it and investigate whether animals, cows in particular, are raised and treated well in cattle farms.

There are some people who choose to forego milk and beef because they disagree with raising animals and then killing them for food. Then there are those of us who have come to terms with death but still care about whether animals are treated humanely. This article is about the second type of people.

Also, I’m not going to be discussing the health benefits of milk or beef. I’ll leave that for another article. Today I’ll only be covering how animals are raised and treated.

Sounds good? Let’s go.

Is it OK to drink milk and eat beef? The animal welfare case.

If you’re like most people then I bet you’ve heard horror stories about how poorly cows are treated. I too thought that animals were in trouble. A few years ago I had even become vegetarian to save animals from torture.

Yet as part of the “What We Should Really Be Eating?” series I’ve started to bring all my assumptions under the microscope. Animal welfare is one of them.

So I sat down, and wrote my concerns. I then put in a few days of research into finding the answers. Here are the concerns I’ll be covering:

  • Cows no longer eat natural diets, but instead are artificially fattened and live unhealthy. (sounds plausible but not true)
  • Cows suffer terribly through dehorning and disbudding. (not if done right)
  • Artificial insemination is like raping cows. (that’s a lie)
  • Calves are separated from their moms leading to hard “goodbyes.” (it depends, but calf security comes first)
  • Farmers don’t care about them, their living conditions and hygiene suck. (no because they want to stay in business, and it turns out many of them love their animals)

These are the concerns I’ll be addressing in this article. Let me start out by saying it’s not like that. Cows live much better than what most of us think or have heard through advocacy groups.

“Cows no longer eat natural diets, but instead are artificially fattened and live unhealthy.” Hmm, no.

We’ve all heard that. Cows are made fat so farmers can earn more. Those greedy farmers who make their cows fat! So I got started by researching what do cows eat?

All cows eat grass when they’re little. As they grow their diets may change depending on farming practices and nutritionist recommendations (yes, cows get their own nutritionists!). When you come across a “grass-fed” label this means that at the end of his/her life the cow was eating grass (“grass-finished” is the appropriate term).

For example, here’s what Krista Stauffer from the Farmer’s Wifee told me about their practices:

We have a nutritionist that tests the quality of all our feed and comes up with the best ration for our cows to remain healthy. I think a common misconception is cows are just eating grain on dairy farms.

Our cows are fed alfalfa hay, alfalfa silage (fermented feed), barley, some wheat when available and corn/corn distillers. The best ration for our cows based on breed, size, weight, amount of milk they are averaging is formulated and mixed together. The majority of what they are fed is alfalfa, not corn.

But many of us believe that grass is more natural for cows, right? Is this true?

“Grain is fine as long as there’s plenty of roughage,” said Temple Grandin, an animal welfare expert to the Washington Post. It comes down to the pH in animal’s system that needs balancing.

I talked with Jude Capper, an animal scientist and adjunct professor at the Washington State University about this:

Grain is like candy for cows in that they will almost always choose it over hay or pasture. However, that doesn’t mean it has the nutritional disadvantages that we would associate with a candy-based diet in humans!

“Natural” is such a loaded word, and one that I frankly think has no place in the cattle feed discussion. There is almost nothing that we do as humans that is “natural” (using iPads? Driving cars? Having surgery or medication when sick? Eating cooked fermented food?) and yet the perception that cows should be eating grass simply because it’s “natural” still persists.

Cattle should be fed a balanced diet which fulfils their nutrient requirements and does not cause health problems. Yes, it’s possible to have health issues from a corn-based diet that is not adequately balanced, but the same is possible from a forage or pasture-based diet. There is no ideal cattle feed and cattle do a fabulous job in terms of converting many crops, feeds and by-products from human food and fibre production into milk and meat.

Notice how cows prefer grain over grass (I had no idea, and was surprised to discover that!). Also, notice the word she used: “balanced” diet. It’s not like one diet is better than the other. It’s that cows need balance. Just like us 🙂

But what about hormones that “artificially” fatten cows? Isn’t this a very unnatural thing to do?

First, let’s discuss what these hormones are. RPCA, an independent, non-government community dedicated to animal care states:

The human body naturally produces steroid sex hormones to regulate reproduction and growth. The same occurs in cattle. Oestrogenic hormones are produced in females and androgenic hormones in males, but there is some production of oestrogens in males and androgenic hormones in females as well. Naturally-occurring steroid hormones are also found in foods, including eggs, cabbages, milk and safflower oil.

In cattle, natural and synthetic hormones may be implanted under the skin in the middle third of the back of the animal’s ear to improve daily weight gain, feed conversion and carcass quality.

These technologies are benefiting animal production as well as the environment. In particular, according to animal scientist Jude Capper, if we removed implants, we would need more natural resources to maintain U.S. beef production:

  • More water, equivalent to supplying 4.5 million U.S. households annually (457 billion gallons)
  • More land, equivalent to the area of South Carolina (31.6 thousand sq-miles)
  • More fossil fuels, equivalent to heating 45 thousand U.S. households for a year (3,703 billion BTU)

But what about how the cows feel? We’re not sure how these hormones impact how cows feel, or their stress level. Unlike health measures, stress is hard to measure and the cow cannot exactly talk. Hormones may be interfering with other hormones, but again we’re not sure what’s going on.

Still there’s a lot of negative publicity and political pressure. In fact, the animal-advocacy group RPCA states:

The European Union banned the use of HGP in meat production in 1988 due to concerns about the possible link between cancer and HGP residues in meat for human consumption. There was political pressure within the EU to impose a ban despite the actual risks to human health being difficult to quantify and needing further research. In 1998, the World Trade Organization found that the ban was not supported by science and was inconsistent with the EU’s WTO obligations. Nonetheless, the EU ban remains in place.

So yes, further research is needed, but don’t fall for the horrifying arguments made against implants. Always ask – are those arguments supported by solid science or are they told just because they sound plausible?

“Dehorning is extremely traumatic and should be banned.” No, it shouldn’t.

Did you know most cattle breeds grow horns naturally? The reason you seldom see them is that those horns are removed usually very early in a calf’s life.

But why would we do that? Well, it’s mostly for safety. Reducing the risk of injuries both for other cows and towards farm workers, horses, and dogs.

I’ve actually come to see dehorning as similar to removing wisdom teeth in humans. Most dentists recommend removing our wisdom teeth for “safety” as well. And many of us have heeded the advice.

And yes, to an extent animal advocates are right. Dehorning can be painful procedure, if not done right.

I mean imagine removing your wisdom teeth without painkillers or anesthesia. That’d be torture. That’d be wisdom teeth removal not done right. Same is true for dehorning. So if you ever see this happening without painkillers and a local anesthetic, or without anti-inflammatory drugs given later, report it (scroll down for more resources on that)!

The latest tech advancement is disbudding. This includes applying a dehorning paste on a young heifer’s head. This paste does not let the horns grow. As simple as that!

Another way to work with that is to use hornless or “polled” cattle who don’t grow horns to start with!

“Artificial Insemination is like raping cows.” Oh, please, give me a break.

Let’s take it from Dairy Carrie:

A cow cycles about every 21 days. These “episodes” feature her “riding” other cows and allowing cows to ride her. When a cow is in heat they don’t care if the animal they are jumping on or being ridden by is devoid of the correct plumbing.

I mean think about what happens to your knee when your dog is “in heat.” Now imagine what happens when a cow that is multiple times bigger than a dog is in heat! It’s when the cow is in heat that the artificial insemination procedure happens.

But make no mistake: Artificial Insemination is no fun (for the technician). It’s gross. Super-gross. I cannot speak for all technicians, but I saw the procedure on video and that’s how I felt!

A technician inserts his arm in a cows rectum while injecting the bull’s sperm in her vagina. The rectum part is the gross thing. I mean have you ever seen a cow poo?

If you haven’t I recommend you don’t look it up unless you’re a special type of weirdo (and if you are, please stay away).

Ok, back to artificial insemination and the rape claim.

Opponents claim that the cow is raped. Would you like to have an arm in your, hmmm, rectum, they’ll ask?

A fair question that pushes quite a few emotional buttons.

But let’s clarify. There’s no sexual component in artificial insemination. It’s not like the technician performs the procedure for his/her arousal.

So, by definition, it can’t be rape. But what about torture? It could be torture right?

Yes, it could be, if the cow were in pain through the procedure.

I have no experience with cows so I set out to find out, as best as I could since cows can’t actually speak, how does a cow perceive the whole process?

My question was: Is a cow uncomfortable or is she in actual pain?

I watched AI vids and the cows seemed surprised at first, but they didn’t care one bit later. Dairy Carrie confirmed my observation:

“I’ve had cows who would stand completely unrestrained for breeding. If it caused much discomfort they wouldn’t do that.”

So yes, even as a woman, going for a PAP test is not super comfortable, it’s a medical procedure after all. But it’s not painful. I suspect it must be similar for cows and artificial insemination.

“Painful Separation from Mom?” Possible.

The Pioneer Woman said that calves born in Spring stay by their mothers’ sides until about eight months of age. This is actually quite common, however separation can happen at earlier ages too. According to RPCA, the animal advocacy group:

The least stressful method [of separation] is ‘yard weaning’ where calves are given good-quality feed in a yard, while their mothers graze in an adjoining paddock and, a few days later, are moved further away. It is labour intensive but calves benefit by getting used to yards, people, handling and group socialisation. In addition, being in yards makes it easy to do health checks, vaccinations and parasite control.

When a calf is separated from his/her mom depends quite bit on when it’s born and on the farm setup. For example, here’s what Krista said:

During the winter months we remove the calf immediately. Our calving area is in a covered barn but it is not enclosed. Our winters can be pretty harsh and protecting that calf is our number one priority. The cow is milked, the first couple milkings, is colostrum and we feed the calf with a bottle all the colostrum the cow provides. For the first month of life, the calf is in our calf barn where it has its own pen.

We use shavings for bedding and the calves are fed twice a day. It is important for us to have the calves in our barn for us to monitor to make sure it is healthy. After the first month it is transitioned to group housing that has an indoor/outdoor area.

Calf protection comes first! It’s very painful for farmers to lose calves. “Cow and calf losses are the hardest part of our business, not just because it hurts financially, but because it takes an emotional toll as well”, writes the Pioneer Woman.

But what about Veal Farms?

I’m actually impressed with the technology used to keep calves happy and healthy. Temperature control, tags that measure whether each calf drinks enough milk. Watch this video of calves arriving at a farm and getting set up at their new environment. Not bad, huh?

Exhausted, injured cows arrive at the slaughterhouse…Please spare me the made-up drama.

I read all sorts of claims. Injured cows that have collapsed from heat during transport arrive at the slaughterhouse, blah blah.

If this happens, then it’s definitely bad practice and deserves to be reported. But this is not the norm. So I looked up how exactly cattle slaughtering takes place. I was surprised at how instant death is. Check  this video out:

Don’t let the body trembling fool you. This is normal. The cow is dead after the hit, yet the body is jerking. It happens (and if you’ve ever seen a headless chicken run then you definitely know what I’m talking about).

Here’s the thing. We’ll all gonna die some day. Many of us will not pass as instantly as these cows. Many of us will be bedridden. Others may suffer terrible accidents and suffer for days before we leave this world.

Not the case for cows. One hit with the bolt gun in the forehead at the right place, and bam, it’s over. Just like that. I believe the only better way to die might be in your sleep. Yet, I can only assume that, it’s not as if I have direct experience (still alive, not writing this from the Other Side).

Farmers don’t just care about their “girls,” they also have a financial incentive to do so.

I get that if you’ve previously heard a lot of horror stories you may find it hard to believe that farmers actually care and love their cows. But it’s easy to understand that farmers have a financial incentive to keep their cows happy.

For example, mastitis has a huge impact on both cow longevity and productivity, and costs the US dairy industry $1.7-2.0 billion per year. Cows getting sick from lack of hygiene cost farmers, as they need to spend money on antibiotics, and since antibiotic residue is not allowed in milk this by default means a cow’s milk will be thrown away.

So the farmer won’t just have to bear the cost of antibiotics, vet visits, etc, but will also lose money by losing profit.

Not to mention that stressed cows produce less milk. As Krista, the Farmer’s Wifee said:

From an economic standpoint when talking about dairy cows. They HAVE to be comfortable and be in a stress-free environment to produce milk. If a cow is sick or stressed it affects her milk production. If a cow gets sick and she has to be treated with antibiotics, which is milk down the drain. We have slim margins and every drop counts. It makes no sense for a farmer to abuse a dairy cow.

But do all farms follow regulations? Here’s where inspections fit in.

State inspection, federal inspection, National Dairy FARM inspection, inspections for nutrient management – yup they’re quite a lot. An inspector may drop by, at any farm, without notice, and uninvited. They’ll check for cleanliness of facility, milking equipment, medicines, antibiotics, they’ll even look for cobwebs.

“It is important to note that at any point an inspector can fail you, which means no shipping milk, which means dumping your milk down the drain. If you fail a federal inspection, it will downgrade not just your farm but your neighbors,” says Krista from The Farmer’s Wifee.

But don’t let the government do all the work. You can help too!

Sure cruel practices like branding have been abandoned. But you never know when you’ll discover something that needs to be reported. Krista, gives us advice:

I honestly do not know how a farmer could abuse their animals. How can parents abuse their children? These are questions I myself ask. It is infuriating. From what I have observed from abuse videos that have been released by animal rights groups. When abuse is actually happening, it tends to be an employee. Not saying that farmers never abuse or that a farmer has never done this. This is just something I have observed.

This is one of the reasons I am happy to see new programs like the “National Dairy FARM Program” and the “See it. Stop it.” Program. The NDFP is going through the entire operation. It is ensuring that there are Standard Operating Procedures for things like newborn calf care, milking procedures, animal handling, etc. Even more so, it is providing the resources farmers might need to get these into place.

The “See it. Stop it” is basically an agreement between the farmer and the employee. It is the farmer saying that if you see abuse you need to report it immediately. It is both parties saying that abuse will not be tolerated on the farm. It is opening up the line of communication, providing employees with the information for the proper authorities to report concerns and letting the employees know that abuse is not okay and you will not be penalized by reporting.

Should you trust animal welfare labels?

I started out assuming that animal welfare labels must indeed ensure that animals have better treatment. I even briefly mentioned it in the Organic Milk vs. Regular Milk article. However, for the purpose of this article I actually picked a label and read their guidelines. In particular, I read through the Animal Welfare Approved guidelines.

And I found that their recommendations are not science-based. They’re based on what they “think” should be done. So it’s opinion-based, not fact-based.

For example, one of the guidelines is to avoid GMO food. Even though the science behind GMOs is solid, GMOs are safe, and no incidents have been caused by genetically engineered feed, they suggest avoiding GMO feed as an “animal welfare” practice.

Well, that just killed their credibility. Totally.

Now maybe there are other animal welfare labels that actually follow science. I only looked into one, so if you have a recommendation, then please leave a comment and let everyone know.

Is it OK To Drink Milk & Eat Beef If You Care About Animals? The Verdict.

My answer is hands-down yes. Can we do better? Yes by conducting more research and understanding the welfare implications of multiple practices including transport, hormones, etc. Still, I’d say we’re already doing pretty well, don’t you think? At least I feel I can now enjoy my milk or yoghurt without having second “guilty conscience” thoughts about how the animals were treated.

So now it’s your turn. Leave a comment and let me know: Do you have second thoughts about drinking milk or eating beef? Or do you have a “good conscience” while doing so?

62 responses to “Is it OK To Drink Milk & Eat Beef If You Care About The Animals?”

  1. Emily Line says:

    love the article. One thing i would like to add is that trembling animals do when harvest at the plants it from the nervous system. The brain might be dead but the other organs dont shut down immediately, its the same in humans. So any moving could just be nerve impulses(reflex) that just got released and any noises that sound like they are grunting is just the air leaving their lungs. This is what you see in a lot of those slaughterhouse videos that animal activist groups like Peta use.

    • Maria B. says:

      Hi Emily! Thanks for adding additional details about the nervous system. Indeed some organizations support that animals are “bled to death” – the truth is they’re already dead!

    • wilson blauheuer says:

      Go visit an abattoir before you hold forth on what is happening. Please understand that ANY film video you watch is showing you what the videographer wants you to see and is hiding what the videographer wants hidden. Learn to think. More importantly- learn to express your thoughts with written words- your comments in the second sentence are incomprehensible. Perhaps you should learn to edit and proofread.

  2. Jenni Tilton-Flood says:

    Brava, again for delving into the realities and facts and pursuing information from the professionals who not only engage in animal agriculture but base their way of life on being good animal stewards. Being a good farmer is good business. It’s more than ok to eat beef and dairy, it’s a good thing when you know the effort, attention and care behind it.

  3. Carolyn Parsons says:

    I am an Animal Scientist with a specialty in Bovine production. This article is excellent. A couple of things I would add. When ordering “veal” make sure that it is raised with access to forage along with milk. The difference is that with traditionally produced veal, the calf is fed milk or a milk/soy mix and must be in an environment where they can’t access forage. This means no organic bedding because the calves would nibble and eat it and the flesh would not be the traditional pristine white color. Veal is almost exclusively produced from bull calves from diary cows because, obviously, the male has no value as a dairy animal. The bull calf’s value is really for ground beef or veal production. Though they often have great marbling, the size of their muscles make them unsuitable for the meat case in the supermarket. That is why beef cattle are especially bred for their carcass qualities.
    The majority of modern beef animals are bred to be polled (naturally hornless) because it saves a tremendous amount of time and money to avoid dehorning. The most popular North American beef breeds, Angus and Hereford carry the genes for natural polling and are bred to produce offspring that express the polling genes. Those black cows with white faces you may see out in fields are the result of breeding an Angus with A Hereford. They are lovely cows and great mothers.

  4. Jen_Millican says:

    Thank you for your well written, intelligent article. It is so refreshing to see someone using their brain while talking about food.

    I always think it is so insulting to me and my fellow dairy farmers when people start spouting off about what they “know” without ever having been to a farm or even talking to a dairy farmer.

    To quote my vet: we are blessed to live in a country with such a plentiful, safe, and cheep food supply.

  5. randy says:

    I’m a dairy/beef/GMO crop farmer and its so nice to see someone write something so well thought out . I love all the articles u have written keep them coming.

  6. Barnyard Mare says:

    THANK YOU FROM A LIVESTOCK PRODUCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FINALLY SOMEONE WHO DOES THE RESEARCH AND DOES IT RIGHT!!!!!! I have worked in the beef industry for 27+ years and get so tired of the animal welfare groups spewing false information, rigging videos and lying to the public. Most of them are in it for the money anyway. I have a friend who is in the dairy business and she LOVES all her animals and does the best to take care of them and protect them. She is a small dairy producer and you can see the love and devotion to her animals. They love her too and run to her when they see her walking in the pastures to check on them. If she was cruel to them, they would not produce milk and she would be out of business.

    I produce meat goats now as I have been run over, stepped on and kicked enough by cattle that the doctors say I can’t work with them any more because one more accident will cripple me. I loved my cattle and they were tough on me. We still branded but that was to keep thieves from stealing them. If done properly, branding pain doesn’t last long and we have to remember, cattle skin is not like human skin, they can tolerate fly bites and barbed wire scratches without as much pain as they don’t have the same threshold of pain either.

  7. Ed Cummings says:

    Animal Science graduate here. On the subject of hormones there might be need to mention the scandal related to recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which has been banned in certain countries

  8. jb says:

    Farmers impregnate them (dairy cows don’t spend a lot of time with the boys… ya know??), so that they can create a baby either to: “Make” another dairy cow (girl) or Veal/Beef (boy… although dairy cows are bread for dairy, so usually it will be veal: Yes baby boy cow meat). And then after a long 9 months (that’s right, same amount of time as a human woman), the dairy cow who generously “gives” (NOT!) her milk to us (instead of her baby, as baby is taken away shortly after birth). Isn’t her milk supposed to be for her baby? Noooo… of course not. She’s hooked up to a machine along with hundreds of her friends all day long, so that we can have her precious milk, cheese, and ice cream. And then the cycle starts immediately again until mother cow is all “dried up” (unable to produce milk anymore)… and then the farmer that loves her so (and the hundreds of others on the lot… uh huh, sure) kills her. That sounds like a very loving farmer to me <3

    • Manuela Langer says:

      First off, cows – like all other mammals – only produce milk for a certain amount of time after having young, so they need to be impregnated and have a calf before they can be milked.
      They are not hooked up “all day long”, this is utter nonsense. Classically, a cow was milked twice a day (because it could not be done more often for logistic reasons); nowadays farmers have robots that do the milking quite differently: The COW decides when she wants to be milked and actively goes to the robot, receives a mouthful of feed, and allows herself to be hooked up. Why? Because they actually LIKE being milked: Nature’s way of ensuring that mammals do feed their young. Ask any mother who breastfeeds: It’s a good feeling (and as far as cows go, some enjoy it so much, the robot has to shoo them away because they come for milking too often).

      Also, you forget that the farmer has to make a profit, or he’ll go out of business. He could not feed himself, his family, or all the other animals he has if he keeps animals that don’t give milk anymore. Are you prepared to pay for their feed? Do you have a couple thousand acres to keep them? No? Then you better shut up and do not criticize people for doing what needs to be done.

    • J. Randall Stewart says:

      I invite you to visit a real dairy instead of falling prey to activist myths.

      I understand you may have concerns, I’ll share respectfully and transparently how we do it, even if you don’t agree with what I do.

      On a dairy, a cow will become pregnant every 14 months, two months longer than natures 12 months.

      I’ve heard of veal, but I’m in the west and haven’t seen calves go for veal. Here, all bull calves are raised for beef, and are highly valuable. They are cared for, and given the same colostrum and good treatment that the heifers are.

      I’m in the west, maybe veal is more of an eastern thing?

      It is true the calves are taken right after birth. All cows are milked for the colostrum, and all colostrum is combined and fed to the calves–boy and girl. With dairy calves, there is a better growth and survival rate by hand-feeding them and individual care. They are individually separated for the first several weeks, then they are group penned by size. It is essential they always have clean bedding and proper nourishment.

      Cows typically enjoy the milking experience. We milk on a carousel, and it is more of a problem getting them to get off the carousel than to go get milked. We milk 3x a day, and the cows will push at each other to get at the front of the line to go for a ride!

      Cows don’t become “used up.” It is true that their ultimate destination is to be slaughtered for beef. We cull cows early if we think there may be problems down the road. This means we keep “the best of the best,” the goal is to have milk cows make 7-9 years old, and it isn’t unheard of to have a 10-12 yr old milk cow.

      This is animal husbandry. I encourage you to watch the movie “Temple Grandin” for an insight on how animals should be humanely treated as we harvest them and their product.

      Our animals are treated with the best treatment we know how, they are treated with respect. We will fire employees for striking, or even maliciously startling an animal.

  9. Manuela Langer says:

    Have you seen ANYTHING on the topic except propaganda by PeTA and other radical vegan organisations? I don’t think so… go on a farm, see for yourself that the picture drawn in the “documentaries” you name (“Dramamentaries” would be more fitting) is not the reality.

    • Jill says:

      What are ag gag laws for then?

    • Manuela Langer says:

      To protect farmers from the abuse I mentioned above. To prevent more of the propaganda posing as whistleblowing.
      You don’t need filmed evidence to place charges with the police. You don’t need to pose as an employee, and you certainly don’t need to break and enter.

  10. Don't care says:

    There is no way in hell that you have ever farmed a day in your life. That was a complete and utter load of drivel. A dairy cow lasts much longer then 4 years and if infact 4 years was there life span farming wouldn’t be viable. If this supposed cow you have seen was too tired to stand she obviously had another issue with her health. Calfskin shake when they are full not when they are scared. It is not pus it is milk and these levels you talk about are SCC and that it not to record pus. Cows do bellow but I’ve yet to see one cow carry on “for days” these green house gases you talk of are largely down to the fact that a cow shits and fats which as natural as it gets.
    Seriously morons like yourself are the ones who make others sick. Spreading hypocrisy wherever you go -_-

  11. Get an education says:

    You sir/madam need an education. A real life education. Not an education based on propoganda and fear mongering. I grew up on a family dairy farm and NONE of what you way is true in any way, shape or form. The “girls” always came first and everything was done for their comfort, the best of forages and grains, the easiest handling, the driest beds. This was 24/7, 365 days a year. Secondly dairy cows are created to produce milk, LOTS of milk, way more milk than one little calf can consume. Unless you plan to cross foster more calves on that cow, you’ll over feed the one lone calf and that calf will die. Dairy cows, not milked will produce too much milk and will suffer more when not milked, than from being milked. Milkers are not hooked to a cow all day long, thats just pure nonsense. Cows on our farm were milked and cycled for years, way more than 4 years. They were allowed a “dry” period, when they were not milked. The longevity of life for the cow was also longevity for the farm. They were our income producing property. Abuse of income producing property is ridiculous. Think about it. We also run a livestock auction market. You sir do NOT have the first hand knowledge to know how these baby calves are handled. These calves are moved gently to a very dry and well bedded pen and handled with care and concern. Your broad brush of agriculture is so off kilter its stupid. I hope you didn’t write this nonsense on a full stomach with food raised by some farmer trying to make a living for his family. Maria I’m glad you have a little common sense.

  12. Joan Ruskamp says:

    Another thank you from a farm woman in Nebraska. I appreciate the concerns you raised and your candid responses backed up by credible research. If you ever have questions about cattle in a feedlot I would love to chat with you! I am part of a movement of farm women called CommonGround. We are trying to answer concerns people have about their food. Our website is

  13. Lisa says:

    I enjoyed your perspective here! It’s great to have someone outside of animal agriculture doing a full and truthful look at cattle farming.

    As a dairy farmer myself and also a runner and marathoner I know these questions are so important. I care about our cows deeply, and I also value healthy people and a healthy planet. I know these can all work together!

  14. Jerry Jones says:

    As a rancher I enjoyed this article. Thanks for doing the research.

  15. lzoldak says:

    I am very happy about this article. There are a few things that I wish were said a bit different (coming from a producer’s standpoint on why exactly we do certain things, such as hormones) but it is clear you did your research. To add to the calf issue, many dairy farms take calves away immediately due to milk production reasons (even though the first milkings are separated out and given to the calf due to colostrum) and because dairy cattle breeding has almost wiped out the maternal instinct in them. Spending a couple years working on a dairy farm, it was no surprising to find that a calf born during the night was crushed by its own mother by 5 am. Losing that calf has huge financial repercussions and like you said calf safety is key. Usually most beef cattle producers keep the calves on longer because beef cattle are usually not handled as much as dairy cattle and retain more of that wild motherly instinct. To finish, I am happy you encourage people to seek out and do their own research and inspect local farms. However, it is very important you don’t just waltz onto someone else’s farm and start poking around. First off, it is trespassing and that is illegal. Second, you don’t know what contaminants you carry. Many farms have strict sanitation protocols to keep their animals healthy, especially if it is a new shipment of animals (who’s immune system may be fragile). Walking into someone’s farm not only jeopardizes their business but also the welfare of the animals. Contact the farmer first to see if you can arrange a visit! My family and most other agriculturalists I know welcome the opportunity to show people out farms and explain what we do and why we do it; however, we usually all frown on trespassers.

    • Barnyard Mare says:

      I agree. I have a friend who owns and operates a small dairy, she takes her calves from their mothers at birth for 2 reasons. 1. The cows are not careful about their babies and easily step on them. 2. If a cow has mastitis at the time a heifer calf is born and she suckles the cow, the calf WILL get mastitis when she becomes a milk cow. By providing powdered colostrum that is clear of mastitis, the heifer has a better chance of NOT getting mastitis in the future.

  16. Dana Fray Campbell says:

    Thank you for writing this article. My husband and I run a third-generation beef and sheep farm and we get so tired of articles that just repeat myths. I appreciate that you took the time to research some of those myths and talk to producers and professionals about what you thought you knew. I wish more reporters would open their minds and do the same. I do want to comment about the timing on weaning calves. The timing of this happens differently on beef farms vs. dairy farms. On a beef cattle farm, calves are typically weaned anywhere from 5-8 months, depending on season and the farmers management practices. Beef cattle calves are never taken from their mothers immediately unless there is a health reason for either the cow or calf.

  17. Doug Clark says:

    I appreciated your article. I am a Wisconsin dairy farmer. You did a good job looking for the facts. We do care for our animals. My alarm goes off at 4:45, 7 days a week with 65 -70 cows to take care of plus their young. I am lucky to get to the house before 8 pm most days. I also have the crops, soil and machinery to care for. I don’t have time for social media. I was reading some of these posts of some your critics. By experience I know they don’t know what they are talking about. You did a good job finding the truth. There are some posts that have done a good job of reiterating some of your findings. Keep up the good work

    • Kevin Groetken says:

      Doug, Ah yes, the 4:45AM call to milk. We hand milked 12 to 15 cows a long time ago. Those walks to the milk house in January were brisk. (grew up in Iowa). As teenage boys on the farm we were NOT heartbroken when the last cow left the farm. You are right twice a day, every day, all year long. Plus everything else that goes on running a farm.

  18. Kevin Groetken says:

    Pretty good article. I grew up on a small dairy farm in Iowa. As a small boy my dad and uncle said the “bull on wheels” was coming out. I had no idea what that meant and they told me to show him where the cow was. He put on the long plastic glove and then, as a small boy, watched his arm disappear. Yup, you learn early on the farm. But I don’t believe it was the rectum. I believe it is vaginal and is used as a guide for the long tube that delivers the bull sperm. I could be wrong, but it certainly makes more sense than the rectum deal. That was then, now fast forward to today. I visited my son’s friend that milks 5,000 cows a day. I visited this place and saw absolutely no evidence of cruelty. A dietician determines the best mix of forage and feed. Each is weighed as it is added to the feed wagon. When everything is added a giant screw in the middle mixes the ingredients and delivers it to the cows. The milking operation is almost continuous with cows voluntarily coming in, being cleaned and the milking suction cups added. The cows are on a giant carrossel, when they go full circle they are done and off they go with another cow replacing their spot. milk is sent through a refrigeration device, comes out cold and is immediately stored in giant stainless steel tanks. The number of years varies with regard to how long a cow cycles through giving birth, milking, and then drying up. But the truth is, when the milk is no longer produced they are off to the slaughterhouse. They have their own birthing and nursery for calves. Cows appear to be treated well. I will say, I have worked in a slaughterhouse for one day, one day is all I could do. THAT is a real eye-opener, even for a farm boy. I still eat meat but with the full understanding of what happens at the slaughter house. I think everyone should go on a tour to understand this.

    • DairyGirl says:

      Hey Kevin, I didn’t make it through your whole post, but I wanted to set you straight on your AI facts… I have been AI-ing on my family’s dairy since 2008 so you take it from my first hand experience 🙂 You are correct that there is a long tube inserted intravaginally to deposit the bull semen. However, the technician’s arm is actually placed in the rectum. The rectum wall is thin and allows the technician to feel where to properly place the tube and deposit the semen.

    • Kevin Groetken says:

      Thanks. I only saw it ONCE as a little boy, but it never leaves your memory. LOL Have you ever heard the reference “bull on wheels” for the person doing the AI? I finally pieced that together as I got older. 🙂

  19. Victor de Souza says:

    Now, to be fair, you need to add the environmental consequences of it all (separate post linked from here). That’s where the questions really lie.

  20. hyperzombie says:

    Another great article, keep up the great work!

  21. J. Randall Stewart says:

    You didn’t get any of your information from “raising cattle.” You got your information from myths and activist sources.

    Your stories are not a fair portrayal and are not accurate.

  22. Kelly says:

    Animal science grad here. I don’t even know where to start with this article. I’ll just quote yourself back to you – “People will believe what they want to believe – often no matter what!”

  23. Kelly says:

    I have a degree in animal science from a big ag school. The things you describe in this
    article are how things would work in the perfect world – for example, the slaughter video you posted. But in reality, workers have to slaughter 300/400 cattle an hour (5 per minute!) and up to 70 birds per minute! This just does not allow enough time to make sure that all animals are stunned correctly and desensitized to pain before slaughter. Even if it’s just a measly amount, say 5% of the 10 billion animals killed annually in the US that are not stunned correctly, that’s 500 million animals being bled to death, boiled alive, having their skin ripped off, or being dismembered when conscious.

    Although you mention that farms follow regulations, I think it’s important to note that there are basically NO laws that protect the welfare of farmed animals. One law that protects some at slaughter – the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act – covers cows and pigs, but not birds, who are over 90% of the animals slaughtered in the U.S.

    You say that dehorning is painful “if not done right.” Although the American Veterinary Medical Association encourages the use of medications to help with the pain, use of these is not legally mandated. I cannot find any data on the percentage of farmers that use pain medicines when performing this and other similar procedures (debeaking, castration, etc.), but I would guess that for economic reasons, many would choose not to spend extra
    money to give animals painkillers for these procedures. There are also countless videos available online that show these procedures being done on farms without the use of painkillers.

    There are no federal laws that govern how animals can be raised for food. As for state law, most farmed animals are specifically exempted from criminal anti-cruelty laws, that protect
    other animals such as companion animals. Criminal laws also usually exempt “standard practices” which can include removing animals tails, testicles, toes, & beaks without anesthesia, intensive confinement such as keeping pigs in crates so small they cannot turn around and birds in cages so small they cannot spread their wings, force feeding ducks by shoving tubes down their throats to create foie gras, starving hens to force another egg laying cycle, and euthanizing male chicks by maceration (grinding them alive).

    On top of this, the animal agriculture industry has been shown again and again (and again) to abuse animals. This is not the work of just a “few bad apples” as is the usual industry sound byte. When more than 80 investigations have shown egregious animal abuse, it shows that this behavior is ingrained in the industry itself. The abuse includes: birds being boiled alive, breaking animals’ legs while hanging during slaughter, suffocating downed cows, moving downed cows by dragging or with a forklift, killing pigs by slamming their heads on the ground, or hanging them with a chain off a forklift (check out the documentary Death on a Factory Farm), animals being kicked, beaten, stabbed, & assaulted with weapons, breaking animals’ backs, and the list goes on and on. See the industry report of these incidents here:,%20Lies%20and%20Videotape.pdf. Slaughterhouse workers have even been shown to have higher aggression and be more
    prone to violence than the general population.

    I admire your desire to want to give people the straight facts that are scientifically supported as I think that’s so important. I just think you way missed the mark on this one. However I think a quote of yours describes it best – “People will believe what they want to believe – often no matter what!” Of course I’d be happy to discuss this issue further with you if you’d like.

    • Maria B. says:

      Hi Kelly, I’m totally on board with you about pain medication. If not used, it’s torture and yes, animal abuse! That’s why in the article I’m actually telling people to report such practices.

      Also this article was about cattle in particular. It was not about pigs or birds.

    • Kelly says:

      The average person cannot report it. The average consumer who consumes beef and milk does not visit the farm they buy from (nor would they usually be allowed to) so there would be no way for the consumer to know if mutilations were happening without painkillers. Also, not using painkillers, is not illegal, so you would not be able to report it as animal cruelty to the police. And I don’t believe the programs you mentioned above are good resources to report this behavior to. The National Dairy FARM Program’s Animal Care Manual does not require the use of pain medicine for the removal of horns or castration (“For disbudding,
      a best practice is to complete this procedure at the
      earliest age possible, before eight weeks of age,
      following pain control protocols agreed upon by
      the dairy farmer and the herd veterinarian. This
      procedure may include use of local anesthesia and/
      or longer-term pain management.” and “In best practice, castration occurs at the
      youngest age possible and, regardless of the age of
      the calf, the immediate pain is managed following
      pain control protocols agreed upon by the dairy
      farmer and the herd veterinarian. Protocols may include use of local anesthesia and/or longer-term
      pain management.”) For the See It, Stop It program, I did not see castration or dehorning/disbudding mentioned in any of their materials. But seeing as its standard industry practice to complete these procedures without anesthesia or pain medicine, I doubt they would view this as “animal abuse, neglect, harm, or mishandling” covered by their program. Again, I’d be happy to discuss this further if you would like.

    • Maria B. says:

      Hi Kelly, you’ve raised a very important topic. Painkillers should be mandated by law. So if consumers want to report animal abuse, where do you think they should do it?

    • Kelly says:

      I think we are pretty far away from painkillers being mandated. Animal advocates are having a hard time getting laws passed (similar to Prop 2 in California) that ban some of the most egregious forms of animal abuse – intensive confinement (gestation crates for pigs, veal stalls, and battery cages for hens). There is no good way to report farmed animal abuse. Consumers are not aware that it’s happening, as most abuse happens behind closed doors, so therefore cannot report it. For those that work on a farm and witness animal abuse, they may be able to report it to law enforcement. If the state law doesn’t protect farmed animals (as most don’t), law enforcement cannot do anything. If the state law does protect farmed animals, since it’s a criminal law, the farm or worker must be prosecuted by the state. Prosecution for abuse is rare, due to factors like limited investigative resources, or other cases (like rape, murder, etc) that take priority. Advocates are still fighting tool and nail for prosecutions for egregious intentional cruelty to companion animals, so there’s little chance of prosecution for a farmed animal case. And now the animal industry, because of whistleblowing workers, are working to pass laws across the US that make gathering evidence (such as video) of an animal being abused a crime itself! Video evidence of the abuse is essential to building a case against the abuser.

      The only way to be sure that you are not supporting animal abuse is to simply leave animals and their products off your plate.

    • Luce says:

      I know this is an old post, but I would like to point out that you are incorrect with one of your points just invade you have or will continue to repeat it. Cattle do not have nerves in the horns. They do have nerve endings at the base of their horns, but we are required (at least in the UK) to leave the base alone as to not cause pain. Therefore dehorning is generally not painful unless done incorrectly, or there is not sufficient after care (which could lead to infection).
      As you have a degree in animals science from “a big ag school”, I would have expected you at least have known that.

    • Kelly says:

      In the US we dont use painkillers. And farmers here remove the base of the horn. It’s not very often that just the rips are removed and the base is left intact.

    • Jenni Tilton-Flood says:

      As a dairy farmer (one without a college degree but with a good wealth of experience and knowledge regarding animal care)I feel it should be noted that when it comes to procedures like dehorning, it is more about the protocol than the actual procedure. Pain mitigation does not necessarily require medication and to require it or mandate by law would fail to allow farmers the ability to serve the individual needs of their animals, or in some cases assume that the pain medication is sufficient mitigation of stress and pain, when proper handling and preparation, post procedure care and such are just as important, if not more important….when done correctly pain is usually not an issue, but stress can be which is why proper techniques and proper handling are far more important, and healthy for the animals. The introduction or use of medication is not without inherent risks or problems and usually sedation is more for the alleviation of stress for handling than for anything else. Each farmer needs to find the method and protocol that works best for their animals and take the responsibility that the animal’s safety and care is priority. This is a perfect example why cookie cutter regulations that don’t allow for individualized care can actually cause more harm than good, and a stellar reason for a good VCPR (Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship). Working with a veterinarian on a protocol that suits our family of cows/calves is one of the most proactive ways of ensuring a safe and stress free procedure. Of course if one is opposed to animal agriculture there is probably know steps or level of care that would validate or prove a cruelty free protocol.

    • Kelly says:

      Pain mitigation most definitely requires medication. (“Pain mitigation does not necessarily require medication..)

      Studies show dehorning and disbudding is a terrible painful procedure and recommend both a local anesthetic & NSAID (pain reliever). (“when done correctly pain is usually not an issue.”)

      The AVMA says, the “combined use of an anesthetic and analgesic appears to represent the most effective method for controlling pain associated with dehorning.” Handling animals in a way to reduce stress is an important factor to reduce stress during the procedure, but not nearly the most important welfare issues associated with dehorning and disbudding! And proper handling certainly does not replace pain medicine!

      This comment above is a great example of why the only way to not support animal abuse is to avoid eating meat and animal products. This person openly admits that 1) she does not have a college education, which means she is probably not keeping up with the most current animal welfare science, 2) she routinely performs a terribly painful procedure on her animals without using anesthetic and analgesics, 3) she is against laws & regulations that protect animal welfare. There is sufficient scientific evidence that farmed animals feel pain and can suffer. Procedures that are standard practice in the industry are terribly painful, and not only do farmers not provide animals with medication to relieve the pain, they don’t even think it’s important (as evidenced above.)

      If anyone is interested in some resources in plant-based eating, I would be happy to provide them.

      K.J. Stafford & D.J. Mellor, Dehorning and disbudding distress and its alleviation in calves 337, 169 The Veterinary Journal 337–49 (Feb. 15, 2004) (available at
      AVMA, Welfare Implications of Dehorning and Disbudding Cattle 1 (available at

    • Jenni Tilton-Flood says:

      Hi, Kelly!!! I am indeed a perfect example of someone without a college education…I am capable of research and having experience..and I never once said that I “routinely performs a terribly painful procedure on her animals without using anesthetic and analgesics”. What I did say is that protocols that are tailored to specific environments and individualized are far better, on the whole, than cookie cutter, blanket mandates. I am a proponent of animal care and welfare, third party assessments and fact based, practical applications of standards of stewardship and quality.
      I have never actually been accused of “openly admitting” my lack of a college degree…up until now I had no idea that it was something that should be hidden from view or that should be considered a negative or that it precluded me from being able to research, read, learn and make reasonable suppositions or form logical opinions.
      What you left out, is that I am a farmer who is committed to the well being and quality of life of her animals and I am not endeavoring to forward an agenda that precludes animal agriculture, or demonizes it.
      I am also a person who is open to the idea that pharmaceuticals are not the only method of mitigating pain and stress and am aware of the use of dehorning pastes that are utilized as one method to help lessen stress to animals during the dehorning procedure. I am also aware that the handling of the animals prior, during and afterwards are very important.
      Maria, again, great article!

    • Kelly says:

      Mandating that all farmers use pain medicine during painful procedures such as dehorning would still give the farmer and the veterinarian, or the state ag dept, if it was required to produce a rule on the subject, the ability to formulate plans for different environments. I still don’t understand the argument against using pain meds for a procedure where you are removing part of an animal’s anatomy which contains nerves. Removing horns will always result in pain (please reference the studies above), even if proper handling to minimize stress in the animals is being used. Many areas of business are regulated, and we see some regulation even within the animal ag industry when it comes to slaughtering animals, so there’s really no reason to leave it up to each individual farmer to decide how much his animals should suffer. No one supports animal cruelty and abuse, and preventing harm to animals should be mandated by law.

    • Bill Blades says:

      Consumers are more than welcome to visit farms, encouraged even. What better way for farmers to educate consumers on the daily ins and outs of what we do? If and when you have the opportunity to visit farms and meet farmers, leave your preconceived notions and rhetoric behind, be open-minded and prepared to learn. We farmers are generally raised on good manners and courtesy, we would appreciate that in guests and we are not afraid to send those with poor manners or bad attitudes on their way. We as farmers need consumers to be informed and as allies, without consumers, we would have nothing to do. We already have too many outside entities who have no stake in agriculture telling consumers how awful we are, we need more consumers seeing for themselves what goes on and why.

    • Kelly says:

      Many large farms do not let you visit. There are even “Ag Gag” laws in many states that crimimalize whistleblowing on farms and in slaughtethouses. Animal ag is not a transparent industry. I have been to the “teaching” farms at my ag school and what I witnessed was terrible. Newborn calves being taken away from their mothers, and the mothers crying for hours. Mother pigs living in gestation and farrowing crates their whole lives. Animals getting their horns, tails, and testicles removed without anesthesia or painkillers. It was actually my visits to these farms that changed my mind about eating animals and their products and led to my legal career to protect animals. I do wish many could visit farms and see for themselves how animals are treated.

    • Shannon says:

      I love what you’re doing, please keep up the good fight. Same as you, I got my degree in Animal Science and will never again eat any animal I don’t raise and kill myself. The bottom line is there is no way to ensure the welfare of every animal in mass production situations. Hopefully one day all the people living in cities will be eating steaks grown in a petri dish without question instead.

  24. wilson blauheuer says:

    If you think all cows are slaughtered humanely in the USA, you are wrong. kosher slaughter requires the animal be conscious when it has it’s neck sliced open by a Rabbi with a knife or sword- like knife. In an abattoir I witnessed fully conscious half-ton steer being lifted with a steel chain noose around two or even one back leg, hanging there for as much as a 45 seconds before the rabbi slices the animal’s neck wide open. Pain free?- I seriously doubt it. Stress or terror -free? I seriously doubt it. These steer often bellowed so loudly that the concrete walls of the abattoir seemed to shake. I once saw a steer fall after the chain lost it’s grip on the animals legs, only to be chased out of the building and be rerouted back in to undergo slaughter procedures a second time. Just one more reason I despise jewry and muslims.

  25. wilson blauheuer says:

    Go watch one of the many surreptitious videos of almost ANY animal slaughter or farming industries and see for yourself how ‘humane’ the goings on are. Even PetSmart has been tainted by these money-oriented farming operations inflicting terrible misdeeds against defenseless animals- all done in pursuit of profits.
    Or, do what this lady blogger is doing- look the other way and believe what you wish to be true regardless of evidence to the contrary- sometimes extremely powerful evidence to the contrary.

  26. Yacon Root says:

    Awesome Website. Very much enjoyed reading.

  27. Hanny Tunks Horstink says:

    What a load of crap!!! Not going in discussion! Heard it all before. If this is not farmers bias I don’t know what is!! Vegan for the animals, for the planet and for my health, physically and emotionally!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *