End of the line: the gruelling death of a dairy cow | Viva!

End of the line: the gruelling death of a dairy cow

For all of her hard work and suffering, the dairy cow is sent to the slaughterhouse as soon as her milk yield drops. Worn out cows often endure a gruelling journey to market where they are sold to fattening (finishing) farms, before being sent to the abattoir, ending up in low quality beef products such as pies, burgers, soups and baby food. DairyCo even has an online, dairy herd culling calculator, enabling farmers to count their herd’s cull rates (DairyCo, 2014). It states the most common reasons for culling dairy cows: infertility, mastitis, lameness and poor milk production. The same website also contains a ‘finishing calculator’ that allows farmers to calculate the price estimate of a cow’s carcass when they’re planning to slaughter her.

Remember, we've already discussed the crushing double burden of pregnancy. You know how lactation for seven months out of every 12 inevitably takes its toll: excruciating mastitis (udder infection), lameness, infertility and low milk yield. That's why the death of a dairy cow comes quickly once she's no longer financially viable. A quarter of all UK cows are culled every year because of physical exhaustion when most are only six years old. This is the age equivalent of killing a woman at about 20 years old. Professor John Webster of Bristol University’s Clinical Veterinary Science Department, compares this cruel and punishing physical burden to “a jogger who goes running for six to eight hours every day, which is a fairly lunatic pursuit”.

Life on the farm is no picnic - and the death of a dairy cow is not a pretty picture. Once her milk yield drops, she's sent to slaughter. How can you help? You can start by swapping the dairy milk in your cuppa with plant milk. There's so much more variety. You can choose between rice, oat, almond, hazelnut, coconut, soya and many others!