Cheap Milk

“DESPERATE” farmer – Shane Hickey from Kyogle in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, posted this selfie-style video to Facebook from his drought-savaged farm.

“I’m a proud dairy farmer … I work very hard,” he says.

“I worked for $2.46 an hour. Something has got to change. You can’t keep this shit up.”

“People can’t expect farmers to continually work for nothing. That’s basically slavery.”

“If the drought keeps up, I don’t know where they are going to get it from. It’s not coming from here. Our production is down 50 per cent to this time last year and our water is disappearing quickly.”

Shane Hickey has 120 cows on his farm

Contrary to popular belief, milk is not available on tap. A dairy cow needs to give birth in order to produce milk. What happens to her newborn calf is perhaps the dairy industry’s darkest secret.

Given a natural and healthy life, cows can live for 20 years or more. High-yielding dairy cows will last for only a quarter of that time. They are often culled after three lactations or less because they are chronically lame or infertile.

Lameness, mastitis, and infertility

Milk is heavy and a dairy cow may be carrying several extra pounds of milk in her udders. This can force her hind legs into an unnatural position, making it difficult to walk, and can result in lameness. It can also make standing and lying down difficult and uncomfortable.

Mastitis is a painful udder infection that is prevalent among dairy cows. 16.5 percent of deaths of dairy cows in the US are attributed to mastitis, which is more commonly reported than any other health problem in the dairy industry. Housing cows indoors for long periods can increase the prevalence of mastitis.

Infertility among high-yielding dairy cows is a major problem affecting 13 per cent of US dairy cows, commonly leading to cows being removed from the herd. It has been linked to stress, poor body condition, and the demands of high milk production.


Hard concrete flooring causes cloven hoof damage and is especially painful for lame cows.

Sadly, the majority of US dairy cows are kept without access to pasture all year. Furthermore, around 20% of US dairy cows are housed in tie-stall systems.

In Australia the majority of dairy cows are enjoy the relative “freedom” of the pasture

Diet and hormones

The diet of high-yielding cows often has relatively little fibrous content and is inappropriate for their type of digestive system. This leads to acidity in the part of the stomach known as the “rumen,” and can cause acidosis and painful lameness from laminitis (hoof tissue inflammation).

In dairy farming, all calves are taken away from their mother shortly after birth. This causes severe distress to both the cow and her calf, and has long-term effects on the calf’s physical and social development.

High-yielding cows produce calves who are generally not suited to beef production, and some of them are transported to auction houses where they are sold as veal calves. Calves are vulnerable at this age and are not ready to cope with the stress of long-distance transport.

When dairy cows can no longer produce a desirable quantity of milk, they may are disposed of like trash and sent to the slaughterhouse.

400,000 ‘waste products’

Every year, hundreds of thousands of bobby calves are either sent to slaughter (around 400,000 each year) or are killed on farm in their first week of life so that milk can be harvested from their mothers for human consumption. Considered economically insignificant, male calves, and the females who are excess to the dairy industry’s needs, are separated from their mothers on their first day of life. From as young as 5 days old, they are loaded onto trucks and sent to slaughter.

Stressful separation

Cows are renowned for their maternal instinct. Like any animal, a mother cow bonds quickly with her calf. So when he is taken away from her, both mother and calf can usually be heard calling out for each other for hours.

To make matters worse, dairy cows are kept almost continually impregnated. Each year, she is forced once again to go through the physical demands of pregnancy and calving and then the stress of having her newborn calf taken away — all to enable her continuous milk production.


At just five-days of age, the unwanted calves weak and unstable on their feet are made to clamber up ramps and onto trucks. Their immature hooves often slip on these metal ramps and can even fall between the slatted flooring designed for older animals. Stock men have been known to shove, hit, shout at and even throw these young animals to get them on and off trucks.

Deprived of feed

Calves can legally be deprived of feed for the last 30 hours of life. In a natural setting they would feed up to 5 times a day. But dairy calves usually spend their last night on earth, hungry and far from their mother’s care, in a crowded pen at the slaughterhouse.

Final moments

This recent investigation at a slaughterhouse in Northern Victoria reveals the rough handling that calves can experience in their final moments. While some of the cruelty uncovered at this abattoir was illegal, incredibly, no charges were laid. The abattoir owner and workers involved got off with only a formal warning.


Those female calves who are kept to replenish the dairy herd will undergo painful on-farm procedures, such as disbudding. Calves may have a hot iron pressed into their head, to damage the immature horn tissue (called buds) and prevent them from growing horns; or have the horn bud scooped out. Despite disbudding being immensely painful and distressing for calves, it is always done without any pain relief.

Calving induction

To make the birth of new calves into the herd occur over a convenient time period, some dairy farmers induce labour in pregnant cows, so that they will deliver their calves earlier than nature intended. This is done despite the fact it puts the mother at greater risk of uterine infection, and even death.

Induction also affects the health of the calf. Many calves who are born early are unable to survive and are immediately killed. They may be shot in the head, using a captive bolt to the brain; or may be killed using blunt trauma to their skull. Sadly, calving induction continues and is legal, despite most dairy farmers successfully managing calving without such intervention.

Why Do Cows have hooves? Because they lactose.

With thanks to the information available at:

Animals Australia for a kinder world
Compassion in World Farming