In the Northeast and Midwest, dairy cows might spend time outside in warmer months on dry lots, but usually spend winter tethered to indoor stalls. In the west and southwest, dairy cows typically live on dry lots with hundreds or thousands of other cows.
In order to produce milk, cows must give birth. Today’s typical factory farm dairy cow is artificially impregnated and forced to have a calf every year. The female calves will be raised to replace older dairy cows, and the male calves will be raised either for beef or veal. Since cows have a 9 month gestational period, annual pregnancies are physically very demanding on their bodies. It is so debilitating that the dairy industry is a huge source of “downed-animals,” which are animals that are too sick or injured to walk or even stand.
The cows are fed an unnatural high-energy diet of corn and are injected with a synthetic hormone called Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) to produce more milk than they normally would. This hormone causes health problems and birth defects in calves. The typical dairy cow produces 100 pounds of milk per day; this is 10 times more than she would produce naturally. 50% of all dairy cows suffer from mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder. Their udders can become so enlarged it becomes difficult for them to walk properly. Many more are plagued by a range of diseases, infections, lameness and calcium depletion. When calves are born they are immediately separated from their mother so milk can be processed. The females are raised to replace older dairy cows, and the males are eventually slaughtered for meat. Although dairy cows can live 25 years or more, factory farm dairy cows are slaughtered after 3 or 4 years and turned into ground beef.
Note - This video contains footage of living conditions on a dairy factory farm. Teens under 18 years of age need parental permission before viewing. It should not be watched by young children.
The veal industry developed as a by-product of the dairy industry. Dairy cows must give birth in order to produce milk, and within 48 hours the calves are removed from their mothers. Female calves are typically raised to become dairy cows. As for the male calves, almost half are simply left to die or are slaughtered within days. The other half are raised and slaughtered for meat. Of those raised for meat, approximately 1 million calves are sent to veal farms annually. Although cows are social animals that prefer to live in groups, the calves are kept indoors in tiny individual wooden crates.
The crates that calves live in are so small that they are unable to turn around or properly groom themselves. The size also prevents them from achieving their natural preferred position for lying down comfortably and regulating their own body temperature. Crates are typically only 26-30 inches wide and 66 inches long. Often the ends are open so the calves are kept tethered to the front by a 2-3 foot chain or rope around their neck. They live like this their entire 4 – 5 month lifespan until their slaughter. In order to get the white-colored flesh that consumers desire, calves are fed a liquid-only diet of milk replacer deficient in iron and fiber. This liquid diet is fed their entire lives even though they normally would be eating solid food within weeks of birth. This unnatural diet causes multiple health and intestinal problems, and prevents normal behaviors of rumination and chewing.
Currently: The entire European Union banned veal crates in 2007. In the U. S., however, veal crates are still a common practice. In 2006 Arizona was the first to ban their use (effective 12/31/12). In 2008 both Colorado and California passed similar legislation (effective 2012 and 2015). In 2009 Maine banned their use (effective 1/1/11). Michigan will be the 5th state to ban veal crates when the law takes effect in 2012. There are anti-confinement bills currently pending in New York and Massachusetts.
Note - This video contains footage of living conditions on a veal factory farm. Teens under 18 years of age need parental permission before viewing. It should not be watched by young children.
Cattle raised for beef in the U.S. are the only factory farm animals that spend a significant period of their lives outdoors and not intensively confined. Most beef cattle are typically born on independently owned ranches and spend the first half of their lives out on pasture. Cattle are still identified today with hot iron brands burned into their flesh and are castrated without anesthetic. They are weaned from their moms and eventually most are transported to feedlots for the second half of their lives.
When the animals arrive at feedlots, they are usually housed with thousands of other cattle in dry lots often standing ankle deep in manure. (The average cattle feedlot produces 334 million pounds of manure per year.) They are given growth hormones and fed unnatural diets of corn mixed with antibiotics to make them get fat in a short amount of time. Although it used to take 4-5 years to fatten cattle for slaughter, on today’s diet they can achieve slaughter weight in 14-16 months. Even though cattle are biologically designed to digest grass, corn is a cheaper and more convenient way to fatten them up in a short period of time, and consumers tend to prefer the fattier meat produced from a corn diet. Since eating corn is so unnatural for their digestive systems, however, most eventually suffer metabolic problems.
Transportation to feedlots, stockyards or slaughter is extremely stressful; they travel for hundreds or even thousands of miles without food or water, and are exposed to extreme heat or cold. Having been raised on pasture, cattle are usually terrified by the new experiences with humans in strange, noisy environments and injuries are common. Many animals die from the conditions or arrive dehydrated or too sick for human consumption. Some injuries are so severe they become “downed” or unable to walk or even stand. In most of the 50 states it is legal and common to let downed cattle die of exposure over several days; some are even tossed into dumpsters alive. Others are dragged, beaten or forced by tractors to get to slaughter.
Cattle are supposed to be rendered unconscious for slaughter and this is usually done with a mechanical bolt to their head. However, it is common for the stunning procedure to fail and animals are regularly documented being conscious as they travel down the slaughter line hanging from shackles. Some slaughterhouses are known to deliberately use less effective stunning measures so the animal isn’t “too dead.” When animals are conscious and stressed their blood pumps out faster, making the slaughter line more productive by moving at a faster pace. This means many cattle endure several portions of the slaughter process while still alive.
Note - This video shows the lifestyle differences between grass-fed cattle and factory farmed cattle. It does not contain any graphic images.