At an event where the dairy industry show off their best, what you see is often the worst.
When you walk into the halls of the exhibition centre as a visitor of the UK Dairy Day, an event where the dairy industry shows off the ‘best cows’ and businesses attract new customers, what you see really depends on who you are.
If you’re a dairy farmer, a farming student or a farm equipment or feed business owner, you probably marvel at the cornucopia of new and exciting technology, treatments for all sorts of common cattle diseases and ailments, feeds that promise to increase milk yield and you’ll probably admire the larger-than-life udders of cows being paraded in the show ring, producing around 40 litres of milk per day (imagine that as 20 of the biggest bottles of fizzy drinks). Some of the cows are then taken to a corner of the hall, where a photographer arranges them in front of a meadow backdrop, the handlers push and shove the cow in the right position on the plastic grass on the floor and voila, you have a smashing photo of your cow on a lush, sunlit meadow.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone who stopped viewing cows as mere production units, what you see is a perverted show of motherhood exploited to the highest degree. Those amazing cows producing bucket loads of milk have udders so distended they can’t walk properly, milk that was supposed to nourish their calves dripping on the floor (which, by the way, is against welfare regulations). Their backs are so bony it’s startling, bones protruding virtually on all sides and this skeletal look contrasts sharply with the bizarrely huge, veiny udders. To produce that much milk is simply not possible for a cow’s body in the long term (in nature, a cow would only produce six to eight litres a day for her calf) and the metabolic stress is reflected in this emaciated look because all energy goes into milk production and there isn’t enough left for the body maintenance. This body shape has become so characteristic of dairy cows that their owners even spray sheen on the cows’ hips and ribs to show them off as prominent features, completely unaware that under any other circumstances, a cow looking like this would be recommended a special treatment to help her recover. Cows that are only three years old are often classified as senior because under the strain of simultaneous pregnancies and lactations cows are regularly ‘spent’ around five or six years of age.
The ‘meadow’ photoshoot is ironically the only time some of these cows get near anything like a meadow and it seems more like a cruel joke. When you leave the cattle area and the show ring, you also notice the number of stalls offering various instruments, restraining devices called a ‘crush’, artificial insemination services and endless amounts of legal medication and treatment products. Farmers are admiring super-efficient milking machines, calf-hutches and things like ‘headlock’ whilst you wonder how did we get to the point that we find raping cows, stealing their babies and their milk acceptable? But enough words, look at the photos, they speak of the dairy industry better than anything else.
One of the award winning cows, likely to be pregnant with her next calf.
This udder size was constantly being admired, despite the cows not being able to walk properly.
A cow being led away from the show ring, her bony body so typical for modern dairy cows.
One of the best 'milkers'...
Many of the cows were leaking milk from their overfilled udders.
This is where many dairy calves are placed a day after birth.
Headlock - it's not difficult to imagine how it works but it's difficult to accept that people admire it as a great product.
A device called 'crush' for restraining cows for various procedures.
This is how 'happy cows' on a pasture images are done - in a corner of an industrial hall.
Waiting for her photoshoot.
Some farmers even spray sheen on their cows' protruding bones to show them off.
Most of the energy and nutrients dairy cows get from their food goes into milk production.
Waiting for awards to be given.
In the show ring.
As the cows were being led around the show ring, milk was leaking from their overstocked udders.
Final stages of judging and deciding which cow is the best.
Watch a short video from the show ring:
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