Lately I’ve been asking myself some existential questions - contemplating if I grew up in a dystopian nightmare, blissfully unaware that I was part of a horrifying regime.
Surrounded by the green rolling hills of the English countryside, with ‘happy’ cows grazing in the fields, my childhood sounds idyllic, and it was.
At least it seemed that way to me, but the industry that my family farm is a part of has a dreadful underbelly that no one wants you to know about.
I am the daughter and grand-daughter and great-grand daughter of dairy and beef farmers with dairy and beef farming aunties, uncles, cousins, and family friends.
You would think I would be well aware of exactly what happens to dairy cattle.
I remember my dad complaining of his difficulties with TB tests, mastitis, laminitis, milk fever, milk quota, but I realized I had never really spoken to my dad about what he does in detail, and he’s never volunteered the information.
Dairy is Scary is a short, but powerful documentary, and I credit it with giving me the final push which turned me vegan. It started to make me wonder if the family business I had always thought was an upstanding institution of the British countryside was actually an integral part of a regime of violence, abuse, torture, and death.
Six months before I watched this documentary and started to read about this, my sister had given birth to a beautiful baby boy.
It made me reflect on dairy cows as mothers, as they all have to be. Let’s just imagine, for a second, that my sister, a new mother, had actually been born as a dairy cow in England.
If my sister had been born a cow, she would have painfully labored the birth of her son, following a pregnancy which would have been the result of forced insemination when she was only a child herself. [Cows are impregnated first at around 13 months, and have a natural life expectancy of 25 years].
After just a day of nursing her son, my nephew would have ripped from her bosom and taken away, never to be seen by her again.
Simply because he is a boy, he could have been shot in the head with a pistol after a few pitiful days of life; a useless by-product of the dairy industry. Around 90,000 baby male calves are killed in this way in the UK each year.
Or he may have given a brief shot at life on a veal farm, where he would have been reared in a tiny, isolated, and cramped container, pining for the milk and affection of his mother (yes, cows feel connection, loneliness, fear, and of course, pain), but neither would ever come.
After three months, he would have taken that bullet to be served up in fancy restaurant as ‘sweetbreads’. The veal industry only exists because of dairy, because it creates so much ‘waste bi-product’. These sentient animals are seen as exactly that.
Another option for my little nephew would have been to have his little body mutilated (castration, dehorning), in some cases without anesthetic, and sold off to be reared for beef. He may have lived a few short years, and been lucky enough to be raised on a family farm like my own which may even be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘free range’.
But 18 months into his life, still just a little boy in life expectancy, terms his fate will still be as disturbing.
He may be killed with huge volts of electricity causing his young body to go into a massive and deadly cardiac arrest. Or maybe he will be stunned with a captive bolt pistol. This will render him unconscious, if it’s done properly.
For 230,000 cattle per year, this is not the case.
They are so frightened because they do not want to die, they thrash about uncontrollably. If they do not stand still and accept their fate, trapped with their head in a type of vice, they will experience the pain of the shot, and if they cannot be shot again they will be knifed while conscious, with an awareness that they are bleeding to death.
The meat from his body may be sold in supermarkets, perhaps labeled ‘humane’, grass-fed and the people who eat it can feel vindicated that the animal it came from led a ‘good life’, albeit ended by an unnecessary, untimely and horrifying death.
While her son is undergoing this torture, afraid and alone, a mother is grieving the loss of her child, ripped away from her while still nursing. She would typically feed her baby for between six and eight months.
Her breasts heave with the need to feed her child, she pines, and cries for days.
All through the night she calls for her baby who never returns.
It kept me awake on some nights as a child; I never thought it meant anything. It was just the normal sound of the farm.
She may hurt herself while trying desperately to escape to find him.
Then, hopeless and hoarse from crying - she will give up. Twice a day she walks into a metal cage where her aching breasts are sucked dry of the heavy burden of her milk, milk meant to feed and grow her lost child.
Her tired body will be forced through artificial means to produce more than 20 times the milk she needed to raise him. As a result, she may become sick with mastitis. This very common disease allows puss cells to enter the milk, as it is painfully drained from her teats.
The UK permits milk to contain millions of puss cells before it is considered unsafe to drink.
And so, we steal that murdered baby’s milk; we force that baby’s mother through the use of machinery and hormones to give us milk meant for her baby and her baby alone, and throw it on our cereal and in our tea like it’s nothing.
Like we didn’t steal it from the baby it was created for, like we didn’t inseminate his/her mother with a metal rod to create a baby so we can steal their milk, like we didn’t rip that child away from his mother and shoot him in cold blood so we can have his milk, that we can so very easily live without.
And you will get sick from drinking it, because it’s not your milk; your body is not built to drink a baby cow’s milk. I repeat: your body is not built to drink the stolen milk of a baby cow, which has been murdered so you can drink it.
And that milk is probably full of pus. Remember, this is not a story I have made up. You are doing this every damn day.
That baby, if they are a boy, will suffer whichever horrendous fate I have described here. If I had had a niece, she would be preparing to suffer the same horrendous fate as her mother.
She may be standing day and night in a horrific factory farm, in a cramped cubicle, on concrete floors, forcibly impregnated, forced to lactate, milked to exhaustion, suffering from mastitis and other horrible infections and diseases.
If she is not killed off early, no longer profit-making due to painful laminitis, milk fever, TB, or any other of a number of other diseases, she will be forced to endure this same cycle of abuse every year for her productive life, until she is four or five years into her natural life; in human terms, she would be about 20-years-old.
Her exhausted, hard-working, probably lame and infertile body will be hauled off to that disgraceful slaughterhouse.
Sometimes novice artificial inseminators will practice inseminating her with long metal rods before she is stunned, and then shot to create cheap cuts of beef for our stews, Bolognese, and those cheap burgers you might get at a roadside stall when you’re in a rush.
And perhaps her hard work may be honored in death by becoming food for our beloved cats and dogs.
This is the reality of the dairy and beef industry.
I am not describing war and genocide in a dictatorship in Africa; I’m not describing a horror film in which all of our dystopian nightmares are realized.
This is happening right here and now. This is normal. This is as normal as a cheese sandwich, as normal as a Big Mac, as normal as a pint of milk from the corner shop on a lazy Sunday morning.
If you eat meat and dairy you are the villain in this awful story every day, and you don’t even know about it. All of this is allowed, approved, and sanctioned by the meat and dairy industries in the UK, and they don’t want you to know the truth.
Animals are not ours; not our machines, or our property. They have a right to respect, to care, and to life. No animal goes willingly to the slaughterman’s gun.
No mother willingly hands over her own child’s milk at that child’s fatal expense.
We have untold amounts of proof that dairy and meat is bad for us. It is bad for us to have rotten flesh degrading in our intestines, it is bad for us to drink milk designed to grow a 400lb bovine.
We were built to eat plants.
Please raise your awareness about the horrific thing you are buying into, the pain, fear, and distress that has gone into creating every morsel of meat and every drop of milk you consume on a daily basis.
This can no longer be normal. This can no longer be right.
Please be conscious. Please become vegan. There is so much support, so much choice, so many glorious healthy alternatives to living every day with the knowledge of the pain and torture you are inflicting on your fellow animals.
I have to live with the cognitive dissonance of loving my family and family friends - and knowing what they do is wrong, but accepted as normal by the majority of people in this country.
I deeply hope that one day this torturous, unprofitable, and declining industry will be a thing of the past.
And I hope that one day, our farm can become a sanctuary where animals can live free from fear and harm for as long as they live.