Not Just Cows | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Not Just Cows

Whilst cows produce most of the milk the UK consumes it would be wrong to think that other animals are not farmed – and exploited – for dairy.

Goat’s cheese and milk are becoming increasingly popular amongst consumers, with many mistakenly presuming that the welfare problems inherent in the milking of dairy cows do not apply to goats.

The truth is that British goats suffer as much as dairy cows: with their babies taken away from them almost immediately (the females to replenish the herd and the males usually killed at birth or sold for slaughter in the growing ethnic meat market).

Unwanted billy goats are killed in a number of ways on British farms. The only stipulation by Defra is that it is done “humanely” and by someone who is familiar with killing goats (106). Some may be killed with an overdose of barbiturates by a vet (although this costs money). Others are killed with firearms, such as rifles or even shotguns. Some are hit on the back of the head with a heavy object. Or, swung by their legs, their heads are smashed into door posts (sometimes repeatedly if unconsciousness is not achieved on the first blow). The baby animal then has his throat cut. It is not uncommon for these dead billy goats to be collected and fed to the hounds at the local hunt (106).

Around 70,000 goats are farmed for milk each year in the UK (107) and over two million litres of goat’s milk are consumed in the UK (108).

Goats are animals uniquely suited to thriving on tough, mountainous terrains but are increasingly kept indoors, for their entire lives, in massive zero-grazing units. In the UK, the dairy industry reports that there’s only one large scale goat milk producer who allows grazing (109). This means that all the other large scale operations in the UK (including most in Northern Ireland) are now indoor, intensive zero-grazing units (110).

Some reports have said that the market for goat dairy products is increasing by 20-30 per cent a year  in the UK (111, 112). It is believed that the market is worth in excess of £50 million a year in the UK alone (112, 113).

The dairy farming of sheep is less practiced in the UK, but there are still around 200 flocks of dairy sheep, totalling 12,000 ewes (114). As with goats raised for dairy, dairy sheep are often kept inside; the excuse being that they are not as ‘hardy’ as breeds raised for meat (115). Of course, keeping sheep in one place makes milking easier for the farmer.

Production from conventional sheep breeds is only 100 to 200 pounds of milk per lactation. However, specialised dairy breeds can produce 400 to 1,100 pounds of milk per lactation (116).

Unwanted male lambs will be killed and disposed of in exactly the same way as billy goats deemed surplus to requirements. Both goats and sheep kept for dairying can suffer an extensive range of diseases – many of which are exacerbated by zero-grazing.

The rush to exploit animals for their milk has seen others added to the ranks of the milking machines. Camel milk is the latest fad to hit British stores. Most is from the Middle East, where animal welfare may not even meet basic UK standards. Photos from one camel farm in the Netherlands (currently Europe’s sole dairy camel farm) appears to show animals that are mostly housed, and in a climate that is completely alien to them (117).

Concern has also been raised about the welfare of water buffalo used to produce milk for Mozzarella in Italy, with reports that very young males are so unvalued that many are just dumped by the roadside to fend for themselves.

To read about Viva!’s investigation of goat farming, Nanny State, see