Factory Farming

Dairy Cows on a Factory Farm

Life of a Dairy Cow on a Factory Farm

calf fenced inCalves born to dairy cows are separated from their mothers immediately after birth. The half who are born female are raised to replace older dairy cows in the milking herd.  After three or four years of intense milk production, the females are slaughtered and made into ground beef.

The other half of the calves are male.  Since they will never produce milk, male dairy calves are of little or no value to the dairy farmer, and are sent to veal farms. The veal industry is a byproduct of the dairy industry. Click here to learn more about veal calves.


It is common for the 9 million dairy cows in the U.S. to produce 100 pounds of milk per day - ten times more than they would produce naturally.  They are able to produce this much milk because, with genetic manipulation and intensive production technologies, they are forced to have a calf every year.  Like human beings, cows have a nine-month gestation period, and so giving birth every twelve months is physically demanding. 

cowutterCows are also artificially re-impregnated while they are still lactating from their previous birthing, so their bodies are still producing milk during seven months of their nine-month pregnancy. As a result, the cows' bodies are under constant stress.

Further, 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.


The dairy industry continues to subject cows to abuses in the name of increased profit. Approximately half of the country's dairy cows suffer from mastitis, a bacterial infection of their udders. Other diseases such as Bovine Leukemia Virus, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, and Johne's disease, are also rampant in U.S. dairy cows. These often go unnoticed and untreated due to long incubation times.

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 depletes calcium faster than it can be replenished in the blood.

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.


All dairy cows eventually end up at slaughter.  The abuse wreaked upon the bodies of female dairy cows is so intense that the dairy industry also is a huge source of downed cows.  Cows referred to as downed cows are so sick and/or injured that they are unable to walk or even stand, hence the title “downed”.  Downed cows are routinely dragged or pushed with bulldozers in an attempt to move them to slaughter. Dairy cows are not given any food, water, or protection from the elements during their inevitable journey to the slaughterhouse.

Prior to being hung up by their back legs and bled to death, dairy cows are supposed to be rendered unconscious, as stipulated by the federal Humane Slaughter Act.  However, this 'stunning' which is usually done by a mechanical blow to the head, is terribly imprecise.  As a result, conscious cows are often hung upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker makes another attempt to render them unconscious.  Eventually, the animals’ throats will be sliced, whether or not they are unconscious.

What can you do?


The bad news is that refining your dairy products will not prevent the abuse of veal calves, as veal calves are a direct byproduct of all dairy farms.  The good news is that choosing dairy products produced from free range dairy and non-bovine growth hormone (BGH) induced cows will help to ensure that many dairy cows will live a better life. Click here for information on where to find dairy products from farms that have higher standards of care for animals.   

Grocery stores now have a large assortment of delicious fake-dairy products to replace those traditionally obtained from animals who are intensively confined. These vegetarian alternatives include milk, cheese, butter and cream spreads, and even ice cream!  You can find many of these alternatives in your local grocery store. There are also many wonderful and creative animal-free recipes available on the internet. 

If we reduce the consumption of dairy products by just one meal a week, approximately one billion cows would be spared the suffering that occurs with intensive confinement operations. Check out creative animal-free recipes available on the internet.