Last week was World Breastfeeding Week. This reminded me of what 264 million dairy cows are going through every day.

When I met my husband, he was vegan, but I was still consuming animal products. Often when we met, I would ask him questions regarding his choice to be vegan. One evening we were talking about cow milk.

I could not imagine what could possibly be the problem with drinking cow’s milk. The image I had of dairy cows was the one most of us have of a content-looking cow in a beautiful green field. I was sure they were happy to give their milk to us, as they were living a good life with their farmer.

Photo by Leon Ephraïm on Unsplash

This must have been about three years ago. By then, my son was 7. I breastfed him for a year, and I still hadn’t connected the dots.

why do cows produce milk?

Cows don’t just conveniently produce milk for humans. They are mammals and, just like us, they produce milk to feed their young. So no baby = no milk.

the process of using cow’s milk for human consumption

pregnancy

For a cow to make milk, the cow must get pregnant. This does not happen naturally. The mommy cow and daddy bull don’t decide to try for a baby. Instead, the farmer decides that it is time for the mommy cow to get pregnant and inseminates her.

Then after 9 months, the baby calve is born.

colostrum

As with humans, the first milk the cow produces is the colostrum. This milk is not sold for human consumption and has significant benefits for the health of the calves. So this milk is given to the calves. The calve will either drink directly from its mother or drink from a bottle after the farmer milked the cow. In most cases, the calve is separated from its mother after a day.

The calve goes to the nursery, where the farmer further takes care of it. The cow goes back to the herd to produce milk for human consumption.

milking

The cow will be milked twice a day from now on. A machine will be attached to her udder to suck the milk out of her. The cow will produce many times more milk this way than it would to nurse her baby.

repeat

A cow needs to have a new calve every year to keep her milk production high enough for the farmer to make a profit. This means that 3 months after giving birth, the cow is inseminated again.

break

After extracting milk for 10 months, the cow will get a 2-month break to let her udder heal from being milked twice a day.

repeat until?

This cycle is repeated each year until the cow is no longer able to produce ‘enough’ milk from a profit point of view. This is usually after 4 or 5 years of producing milk. At this point, the cow will be killed and sold for meat. FYI: A dairy cow can live up to 20 years.

and what about the calves?

If the calve is a female, there is a chance it will be raised to undergo the same faith as her mother. Otherwise, the calve might be raised to be killed for its meat after 2 months (so-called veal). Or if it is not financially interesting to raise and sell the calve for meat, it is killed right away.

I put myself in their position.

As a woman and a breastfeeding mother, it is easy to imagine what these cows are going through. Imagine that:

  1. you’re continuously inseminated without your consent
  2. you’re forcefully impregnated 4 to 5 years in a row. 5 pregnancies with all its inconveniences, 5 times labour, 5 times birthing a baby
  3. in 5 years you will spend 3 years and 9 months being pregnant
  4. your babies are taken from you after 1 day
  5. in many cases, your baby will never drink from you
  6. you’ll spend 10 months a year pumping milk, of which you’re pregnant 7 months
  7. your breasts will be much larger than nature intended, so you can produce way more milk than your baby would be able to drink
  8. you will most probably suffer from breast infections frequently. I’ve had the luck to never had to experience one, but I’ve heard from many women how incredibly painful they are
  9. when your milk production stops and even getting you pregnant again doesn’t fix it, you’ll be killed at only 17 years old.
    (life expectancy of a dairy cow: 20 years
    life expectancy of a female human: 74,2 years
    on average dairy cows are killed at 4,5 years
    4,5/20*74,2 = 16,7
    ).
  10. your baby will either suffer your faith or will be killed either immediately or at a very young age

why?

And now the most crucial question of all: Why? Why are we doing this to these poor mothers and babies? So humans, that are no longer breastfeeding can drink milk from another species.

health

We don’t need milk. How inefficient would nature be if humans would only be able to live a healthy life by drinking the liquid that another mammal makes for its baby?

The dairy industry did a fantastic job of convincing us that we can not be healthy without milk. They fooled us into thinking that our bones will crumble without the precious calcium from cow’s milk. Surprise: calcium is not only found in milk. There are many plant-based sources of calcium: green leafy vegetables, legumes, certain nuts, seeds, some grains, …

It turns out that consuming a product that is not meant for us is actually not benefitting our health.

If you’re interested in the truth about the health problems caused by cheese, I recommend you read what Dr Michael Greger and Dr Neal D. Barnard have to say about it.

taste

We all know that people don’t necessarily care about their health if the taste is good. Otherwise fast food, cigarettes, and alcohol wouldn’t be consumed so much. The primary reason people have told me they can’t quit dairy is taste.

There is such a wide variety of plant-based drinks and other products that I’m sure you can find at least one that you will like.

addiction

It shouldn’t surprise you that dairy is addictive. The idea is that a baby is encouraged to keep nursing. Unfortunately, when we consume dairy products, we get the same addictive effect.

I loooved eating mozzarella. When my husband told me the full story behind dairy, I couldn’t imagine never eating mozzarella again. I even remember waking up the next morning and resenting my husband for telling me the truth. He took away my pleasure of eating dairy-free of guilt.

When I think about it now, I can’t imagine how I could have ever placed the pleasure of eating a dairy product above the well-being of a mother cow and her baby.

Eventually, the guilt became unbearable, and I quit all dairy products. Now I never long for them anymore. The addition is broken. Instead, I feel repulsed at the idea of eating something that causes so much suffering.

I feel like a cow

So the next time, that you’re pumping milk and you think ‘I feel just like a cow’, think about our co-mama’s the cows and skip consuming dairy. We’re all mothers.