Honouring all Mothers for Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is today, and it’s a time to celebrate mothers and everything they’ve done for us to bring us into this world. Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate and honour all mothers, including a special group of mothers known as dairy cows. These are mothers who are kept by us human-beings with the purpose of producing 704 million tonnes of milk per year – milk that is naturally meant for their calves, but, of course, is produced all for the consumption by human-beings.

Please take a look at this awesome short video that actress and animal advocate Emily Deschanel has made for Mother’s Day, which explains facts about dairy cows and their mothers that you may not be aware of:

As Emily says in this video, dairy cows are kept constantly pregnant during their 4-5 years of “milking” (after which they are considered “spent” and then sent to the slaughterhouse – did you know a cow’s natural lifespan is 20-25 years?), in order to facilitate the lactation that is needed to produce milk. (Yes, that is right! A cow needs to have a baby in order to produce milk! (just like human-beings!)) And within 1-3 days of giving birth to her calf, her baby is immediately taken away from her, so that the dairy operation can start using her milk for human consumption. This happens time after time during the mother cow’s short life, and if you are a mother yourself, I wonder: how would you feel if the same thing happened to you every time you gave birth? A mother cow carries her unborn child for 9 months, just like a human mom does.

A strong bond is formed within 5 minutes between the mother cow and her calf. The bonding process begins when she licks the birthing fluids off her baby, and a cow will only let her baby nurse off her. She instinctively licks her calf’s fur to stimulate circulate and facilitate nursing.

Just like any mother and child, the cow/calf bond intensifies over time and delayed separation can cause extreme stress on the calf, which is another reason why they are separated so soon. And did you know that the casein in cow’s milk actually contains casomorphin opiates that release dopamine into the system? Once consumed, this dopamine has an “addictive” effect, you could say, which makes the baby calf have a natural strong desire to be attached to his mother and keep drinking her milk (which infants need to properly grow and be healthy – just as a human infant needs his mom’s milk). And this is why so many people are addicted to cheese – it’s the dopamine’s effect!

Once her calf is taken away, she will frantically bellow for days for her baby calf, which is a common occurrence to take place. Studies have actually been done in which the calves remain with the mothers for up to 14 days after birth. Cows whose calves were removed longer than one day after birth showed increased searching, sniffing and vocalizations. You can actually see a short video here of a mother cow being separated from her baby. Watch how she reacts:

Once the calves are whisked away, they are taken to their dismal fates: female calves are raised as dairy cows, and the male calves are kept in tiny crates for 5 weeks where they are malnourished in order to keep their meat a pleasant white (lack of iron) and can’t even turn around in their confinement, and then they are slaughtered for veal – while still infants.

On the topic of mother cows and their babies, I want to share this special story with you that I read some time ago and it has always touched me. This is a story told by a veterinarian named Holly Cheever:

 “One of my clients called me one day with a puzzling mystery: his Brown Swiss cow, having delivered her fifth calf naturally on pasture the night before, brought the new baby to the barn and was put into the milking line, while her calf was once again removed from her. Her udder, though, was completely empty, and remained so for several days.

As a new mother, she would normally be producing close to one hundred pounds of milk daily; yet, despite the fact that she was glowing with health, her udder remained empty. She went out to pasture every morning after the first milking, returned for milking in the evening, and again was let out to pasture for the night, but never was her udder swollen with the large quantities of milk that are the hallmark of a recently-calved cow.

I was called to check this mystery cow two times during the first week after her delivery and could find no solution to this puzzle. Finally, on the eleventh day post calving, the farmer called me with the solution: he had followed the cow out to her pasture after her morning milking, and discovered the cause: she had delivered twins, and in a bovine’s “Sophie’s Choice,” she had brought one to the farmer and kept one hidden in the woods at the edge of her pasture, so that every day and every night, she stayed with her baby — the first she had been able to nurture FINALLY—and her calf nursed her dry with gusto. Though I pleaded for the farmer to keep her and her bull calf together, she lost this baby, too—off to the hell of the veal crate.

Think for a moment of the complex reasoning this mama exhibited: first, she had memory — memory of her four previous losses, in which bringing her new calf to the barn resulted in her never seeing him/her again, which would be heartbreaking for any mammalian mother. Second, she could formulate and then execute a plan: if bringing a calf to the farmer meant that she would inevitably lose him/her, then she would keep her calf hidden, as deer do, by keeping her baby in the woods lying still till she returned. Third — and I do not know what to make of this myself — instead of hiding both, which would have aroused the farmer’s suspicion (pregnant cow leaves the barn in the evening, unpregnant cow comes back the next morning without offspring), she gave him one and kept one herself. I cannot tell you how she knew to do this.

All I know is this: there is a lot more going on behind those beautiful eyes than we humans have ever given them credit for, and as a mother who was able to nurse all four of my babies and did not have to suffer the agonies of losing my beloved offspring, I feel her pain.”

I have one wish for you for this day. Today, on Mother’s Day, I would love for you to honour all mothers. If you are a mother yourself, I hope you can relate to the above story and the info I’ve shared. And if you have a mother (everyone!), I hope you can relate as well to the experience of love and bonding between mother and child. All mothers inherently want to be with their babies, and nurture them and care for them. And to take that primal right away from them strips these fellow creatures of their fundamental being – that is, the intrinsic need to bond with and nurture their children. When we support the dairy industry by buying and consuming milk products, we deny these creatures these rights.

Please, for the mothers, honour and respect them. You can do this simply and easily by not supporting the dairy industry. Cow’s milk is for baby cows (we are the only species that drinks the milk of another species!), and we can easily enjoy the plethora of different plant-based milks and dairy products that are available today, or that you can even make yourself at home. If you have any questions at all on how to make this transition, please ask me, and I am happy to help you. (that’s what I’m here for!) Here is a good resource as a starting point.

loving-mother-cow-and-calf1A Mother’s love is something
that no one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion
and of sacrifice and pain,

It is endless and unselfish
and enduring come what may
For nothing can destroy it
or take that love away . . .

~ Helen Steiner Rice


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