Today I received CL in the mail. The CL stands for Compassionate Living. It is the magazine of Mercy for Animals. I remember reading about Nathan Runkle, the Executive Director, when he was a young boy growing up in Southern Ohio and being very much perplexed at the cruelty he saw in egg factory
farms nearby. He soon became a "man" as he ventured into these dark places of hell for chickens to videotape their misery and suffering and decided it would be his mission in life to expose what happens to them. I applaud him for how far he has come since those days and how much good he and his organization has accomplished.
Even though many of us have already read much about "Dairy's Dark Side," there is sadly always something new to take away from observing what happens to cows and calves in these horrible dairy factories. For five weeks "John" documented this barbaric abuse while working at Willet Dairy in Locke, New York. Yes, parts of it were shown on Nightline and ABC's World Tonight with Diane Sawyer, and through the miracle of TV- approximately twelve million people viewed some of the heart-wrenching footage of animal cruelty. But it seems millions more are still in the dark re how the milk and dairy products they see so brightly bottled and packaged obscures the behind-the-scenes of misery and cruelty to the cows and their calves.
John's introduction on Day One was sobering. The mechanic training him said of the cows, "You'll learn to hate them." (Why would anyone hate a poor captive cow?) He used a whip with a frayed steel cable and would sometimes charge at them with a large wrench. John took pictures of these poor cows confined indoors and so densely packed or in stalls so small that they could barely move. This scene is a far cry from the industry's "happy cow" commercials showing them contentedly chewing their cud in sunny, lush meadows with their frolicking calves near by. Add duplicity to the CAFO's statement re "happy" cows.
Per John -cows and calves were kicked, punched, and electric-shocked. Newborn calves were dragged away from their mothers and both endured emotional distress. Workers burn out the horns and slice off the tails of calves without anesthesia. (Can you try to feel their pain?) I wonder if these people ever learned lessons of compassion from their parents or their schools and churches. And, of course, a lot of blame has to go to the owners who it seems are not at all concerned about their suffering. Can workers be compassionate in this scenario?
John saw workers injecting cows with a controversial bovine growth hormone used to increase milk production. He saw cows with debilitating leg injuries, abcesses, open wounds and prolapsed uteruses-
a condition in which the uterus herniates outside of the cow's vagina during birthing. No veterinary care is given for these often grotesque, bleeding, and even infected protrusions. One cow's protrusion scraped along the concrete floor as she went to rest her body. John called attention to his co-worker re another cow with a severe case of uterine prolapse, but he just smiled and walked off. I think human mothers should be aghast at this horrible female condition, but sadly it seems many don't give it a moment's thought when they do their family shopping for milk and dairy.
And then the "downed" cows who were too sick or injured to stand were left to suffer sometimes for a couple of weeks without food, water, or veterinary care before dying or being killed. A common cause of injury was slipping on the concrete floors which were slick with excrement. These poor cows and even the "healthy" ones were also probably suffering with severely swollen hocks due to prolonged lying and standing on concrete. Sometimes these swellings were as large as grapefruits. The cows' legs were also often manure-encrusted and their swollen hocks were sometimes infected with open sores and impacted with feces and dripping pus. Shouldn't cleanliness be a hall mark of milk production?
Several cows were suffering from mastitis, which is a painful condition that often is the result of excessive milk production. Cows with mastitis have mishappen and discolored udders which often are grossly inflamed and hang nearly to the floor causing walking difficulties for the cows.
One time John witnessed a downed cow near death with a gaping infected wound on her leg. He asked a manager what the farm did with downers. He said, "We give them a couple of weeks and if they don't get up, we f---ing shoot them." At another time John witnessed what happened to one of the cows who collaped enroute to the milking parlor one day. "Three workers forced her to her feet by pounding on her back, kicking her in the sides and jabbing her in the anus with keys." What kind of people treat an innocent mother cow in this manner?
A side bar thought here is reflective and apropos:
"Any cow, as a prey and not a predator species, experiences terror due to her immobility, which instinctively causes stress since she knows she is helpless to protect herself with her instinctive
fight or flight response."
John would now see and learn about the harsh realities of mother cows being separated from their calves as workers drag the terrified newborns out of the birthing arena by their legs while their mothers chase and bellow in distress. According to a co-worker, John was told how a cow often became "crazy" when separated from her calf, "running around the box stalls, looking for it for days."
As for the newborn heifers to be raised as replacements for their milking mothers, one morning John discovered a downed calf. Housed in a frigid tin shed, this poor calf was apparenetly dying from the cold. Calling this to the attention of the worker responsible for newborns, he only agreed that she was likely suffering from cold but did nothing to relieve her misery. The following day John found the calf frozen to death. I could not help thinking that I was sorry that she died so cruelly, but thank God she would not join her mother in the milking line. She would be spared giving birth to calves who would be taken away from her. She would be spared an often cruel death in a slaughterhouse. Birth is always suppose to be so beautiful - so magical, but sadly birth here is a tragedy for both the mother cow and her calf.
Then John describes what happens to these young calves who are not destined for veal crates, but are raised for the milking line. At one month old they were subjected to torturous mutilations. "Disbudding" which is a standard practice in the industry is a process by which a cable is used to muzzle the calves and tightly bind their head to the steel fencing. The worker then uses a smoking iron to burn their nascent horns out of their heads "searing through flesh and bone and leaving behind molten, bloody cavities." The calves wheeze, froth and strain to bellow through their bound mouths. One worker steadied the heads of struggling calves by grasping the tops of their skulls with one hand and thrusting his fingers into the calves' eye sockets with the other.
As John notes on Day 30 "I saw dozens of calves with bloody wounds where their horns had been burned out. My supervisor told me that this was his favorite job. "We burn em'. It's this little iron, and you put it on the little nubs on their head and it kills it off. It's like, 'sssssss.' l used to love doing that." Does this man have a family with children and perhaps pets? If so, I fear for them.
John also viewed the painful tail-docking amputation of calves. This is a procedure where a worker cuts through a calf's skin, nerves and tailbone. For once I am glad that the conservative American Veterinary Medical Association opposed tail-docking as an acutely painful procedure that lacks scientific support.
John's investigation uncovers much more including the environmental impact of housing many animals in one place and certainly not the least is the disposal of wastes. John recalls seeing "mountains of manure." He was routinely told to unclog manure pits under the milking stations by reversing the pump so that the manure sprayed all over the cows in the milking line and surrounding area. Another insulting behavior to the cows who provide our milk under so much duress and suffering. Many of us are grateful that we don't contribute to it. John also mentions the waste lagoons which surely must seep into neighboring ground water tables and probably impact adversely on water quality in the surrounding areas.