Milk mustaches are charming, especially when worn by celebrities urging us to “pour one more” glass of nutritious cow’s milk. The clever advertising started with the 1980’s campaign “Milk, it does the body good.” The newest motto is “Got Milk?” The healthful benefits of drinking milk are present, but the demand in selling milk is equal to the demand it has on the cows’ bodies in extracting the milk. This is where the fairy tale ends. The manufacturing practices are far from sustainable.
Supply and demand is demanding
While being kept in tight quarters, the dairy cows are impregnated factory-style, many times over, throughout their short lives to ensure as much milk as possible is processed for retail sale. When the calves are born, they are immediately taken away from their mothers and integrated into the system too. The females will follow suit of their mothers while some of the males will be quarantined in a dark place to be sold as tender veal meat. Any kind of relationship that the mother cows would have with their offspring is strictly prevented due to the exorbitant demand the farmers have on meeting milk quotas. Financial profit is more important in the eyes of these farmers instead of the welfare of the cows.
Additionally, to help meet milk quotas, many dairy farms in America rely on the rBST hormone to increase milk production in their cows (The hormone is banned in Canada and Europe). The hormones generate 10 times more milk in a cow than a naturally lactating cow would produce. Shocking, when the anatomy of the cow is considered because any additional milk load that their bodies must carry will result in tissue engorgement and swelling. Milking alleviates the milk load that the cows must undertake, but a lot of milking must be endured.
All work and no play makes Betsy the cow…tired
In milking the cows, mechanical pumps are attached to the cows’ udders and due to the extended time that the cows are milked, up to 50% suffer from a potentially fatal mammary gland infection called Mastitis. This is the most common dairy cow disease in the US, along with being the most expensive to treat. The treatment requires antibiotics.
The antibiotics help encourage healing in the animals’ bodies, but also contaminate the milk and this milk is sold to consumers. Even cows that have not been treated with hormones have likely received antibiotics because of the infections they get from long-term milking. Milk containers will state if their contents contain hormones or antibiotics, but it is important to notice that some will underplay their presence and permit residual amounts.
When the dairy cows reach 4-5 years old, they are too lame to work and are slaughtered. This is a dramatic slice into the cow’s life span because a healthy cow typically lives up to 25 years. The slain animal is either turned into dog food or low-grade meat for the super market. Some would argue that at least the animals are being recycled into meat; however, the cows are only available because they are overworked and physically ailed.
Cows not as sustainable as other dairy animals
In addition to the animal welfare issues of dairy cows, there are other reasons why cows are the least sustainable of the dairy animals. In comparison to goats and sheep, they occupy a lot more land due to their large size. This, in turn, leads to an increase in greenhouse emissions. You know the smell…methane gas. It also takes a lot of fossil fuels to transport milk from farm-to-market.
So, to conclude, if those happy cows in California (from the commercials) could really talk, they might tell you to give them a break! How can you do that? Try an alternative milk option, such as goat milk, sheep milk, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, rice milk, etc.
If you still want to dip your Oreo cookies into the classic milk of choice, then choose to only support local farms that do not inject their cows with artificial hormones and have kindly embraced sustainable practices.