Cows and Calves
Since the 1980's a series of mergers and acquisitions has resulted in concentrating over 80% of the 35 million beef cattle slaughtered annually in the U.S. into the hands of four huge corporations.
Many beef cattle are born and/or live on the range, foraging and fending for themselves, for months or even years. They are not adequately protected against inclement weather, and they may die of dehydration or freeze to death. Injured, ill, or otherwise ailing animals do not receive necessary veterinary attention. One common malady afflicting beef cattle is called "cancer eye." Left untreated, the cancer eats away at the animal's eye and face, eventually producing a crater in the side of the animal's head.
Accustomed to roaming unimpeded and unconstrained, range cattle are frightened and confused when humans come to round them up. Injuries often result as terrified animals are corralled and packed onto cattle trucks. Many will experience additional transportation and handling stress at stockyards and auctions where they are goaded through a series of walkways and holding pens and sold to the highest bidder. From the auction, older cattle may be taken directly to slaughter, or they may be taken to a feedlot. Younger animals, and breeding age cows, may go back to the range.
Ranchers still identify cattle the same way they have since pioneer days, with hot iron brands. Needless to say, this practice is extremely traumatic and painful, and the animals bellow loudly as ranchers' brands are burned into their skin. Beef cattle are also subjected to waddling, another type of identification marking. This painful procedure entails cutting chunks out of the hide which hangs under the animals' necks. Waddling marks are supposed to be large enough so that ranchers can identify their cattle from a distance.
Most beef cattle spend the last few months of their lives at feedlots, crowded by the thousand into dusty, manure laden holding pens. The air is thick with harmful bacteria and particulate matter, and the animals are at a constant risk for respiratory disease. Feedlot cattle are routinely implanted with growth promoting hormones, and they are fed unnaturally rich diets designed to fatten them quickly and profitably. Because cattle are biologically suited to eat a grass-based, high fiber diet, their concentrated feedlot rations contribute to metabolic disorders.
Cattle may be transported several times during their lifetimes, and they may travel hundreds or even thousands of miles during a single trip. Long journeys are very stressful and contribute to disease. The Drover's Journal reports, "Shipping fever costs livestock producers as much as $1 billion a year."
Young cattle are commonly taken to areas with cheap grazing land, to take advantage of this inexpensive feed source. Upon reaching maturity, they are trucked to a feedlot to be fattened and readied for slaughter. Eventually, all of them will end up at the slaughterhouse.
At a standard beef slaughterhouse, 250 cattle are killed every hour. As the assembly line speeds up, workers are rushed, and it becomes increasingly difficult to treat animals with any semblance of humaneness. A Meat & Poultry article states, "Good handling is extremely difficult if equipment is 'maxed out' all the time. It is impossible to have a good attitude toward cattle if employees have to constantly overexert themselves, and thus transfer all that stress right down to the animals, just to keep up with the line."
Prior to being hung up by their back legs and bled to death, cattle are supposed to be rendered unconscious. This 'stunning' is usually done by a mechanical blow to the head. The procedure is terribly imprecise, and inadequate stunning is inevitable. The result of poor stunning is conscious animals hanging upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker makes another attempt to render them unconscious. Eventually, the animals will be "stuck" in the throat with a knife, and blood will gush from their bodies whether or not they are unconscious.
Traditional small dairies, located primarily in the northeast and Midwest are going out of business. They are being replaced by intensive 'dry lot' dairies which are typically located in the southwest.
Regardless of where they live, however, all dairy cows must give birth in order to begin producing milk. Today, dairy cows are forced to have a calf every year. Like human beings, the cow's gestation period is nine months long, and so giving birth every twelve months is physically demanding. The cows are also forced to give milk during seven months of their nine month pregnancy. In a healthy environment, cows would live in excess of 25 years, but on modern dairies, they are slaughtered after just 3 or 4 years and then used for ground beef.
With genetic manipulation and intensive production technologies, it is common for modern dairy cows to produce 100 pounds of milk a day -- ten times more than they would produce in nature. The cows' bodies are under constant stress and they are at risk for numerous health problems.
Approximately half of the country's dairy cows suffer from mastitis, a bacterial infection of their udders. This is such a common and costly ailment that a dairy industry group, the National Mastitis Council, was formed specifically to combat the disease. Other diseases, such as Bovine Leukemia Virus, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, and Johne's disease (whose human counterpart is Crohn's disease), are also rampant on modern dairies, but they are difficult to detect or have a long incubation period, and they commonly go unnoticed.
A cow eating a normal grass diet could not produce milk at the abnormal levels expected on modern dairies, and so today's dairy cows must be given high energy feeds. The unnaturally rich diet causes metabolic disorders including ketosis, which can be fatal, and laminitis, which causes lameness.
Another dairy industry disease caused by intensive milk production is "Milk Fever." This ailment is caused by calcium deficiency, and it occurs when milk secretion uses calcium faster than it can be replenished in the blood.
Although the dairy industry is familiar with the cows' health problems and suffering associated with intensive milk production, it continues to subject cows to even worse abuses in the name of increased profit. Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a synthetic hormone, is now being injected into cows to get them to produce even more milk. Besides adversely affecting the cows' health, BGH also increases birth defects in their calves.
Calves born to dairy cows are separated from their mothers immediately after birth. Half of the dairy calves born are female, and they are raised to replace older dairy cows in the milking herd. The other half of the calves are male, and because they will never produce milk, they are raised and slaughtered for meat. Most are killed for beef, but about one million are used for veal.
The veal industry was created as a by-product of the dairy industry to take advantage of an abundant supply of unwanted male calves. Veal calves live for up to sixteen weeks in small wooden crates where they cannot turn around, stretch their legs, or even lie down comfortably. The calves are fed a liquid milk substitute which is deficient in iron and fiber and designed to make the animals anemic. It is this anemia which results in the light colored flesh which is prized as veal. In addition to this high priced veal, some calves are killed at just a few days old to be sold as low grade 'bob' veal for products like frozen TV dinners.
Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry. In order for dairy cows to produce milk, they must be impregnated and give birth. Half of the calves born are female, and they are used to replace older cows in the milking herd. The other half are male, and because they are of no use to the dairy industry, most are used for beef or veal.
Within moments of birth, male calves born on dairies are taken away from their mothers and loaded onto trucks. Many are sold through auction rings where they are subjected to transportation and handling stresses. The fragile animals are shocked and kicked, and when they can no longer walk, they are dragged by their legs or even their ears.
Every year, approximately one million calves are confined in crates measuring just two feet wide. They are chained by the neck to restrict all movement, making it is impossible for them to turn around, stretch, or even lie down comfortably. This severe confinement makes the calves' meat "tender" since the animals muscles cannot develop.
Published scientific research indicates that calves confined in crates experience "chronic stress" and require approximately five times more medication than calves living in more spacious conditions. It is not surprising then, that veal is among the most likely meat to contain illegal drug residues which pose a threat to human health.
Researchers have also reported that calves confined in crates exhibit abnormal coping behaviors associated with frustration. These include head tossing, head shaking, kicking, scratching, and stereotypical chewing behavior. Confined calves also experience leg and joint disorders and an impaired ability to walk.
In addition to restricting the animals' movement, veal producers severely limit what their animals can eat. The calves are fed an all liquid milk-substitute which is purposely deficient in iron and fiber. It is intended to produce borderline anemia and the pale colored flesh fancied by 'gourmets.' At approximately sixteen weeks of age, these weak animals are slaughtered and marketed as "white" veal (also known as "fancy," "milk-fed," "special fed," and "formula fed" veal). Besides the expensive veal which comes from calves who are kept in small wooden crates, "bob" veal is the flesh of calves who may be slaughtered at just a few hours or days old. While these calves are spared intensive confinement, they are still subjected to inhumane transport, handling, and slaughter, and many die before reaching the slaughterhouse.
© 2003-2011, OCPA