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Debunking a Few Myths About Dairy Calves - Petition Part 2

So we’re back to discuss the article asking everyone to boycott the evil dairy farmers.

If you haven’t seen the actual article, it is here.

If you didn't see the post I first part of this article, it is here.

In the previous post, I discussed the issues with the writer’s understanding of cows. Now it’s on to the calves.

Apparently a baby calf needs it’s mother’s milk to survive. Duh. “Once the baby is born it naturally needs its mother's milk in order to survive. This is unacceptable to the dairy industry. They can't have babies stealing away all this product! So of course, the newborn calves often have spikes strung through their nose to prevent them from suckling.”

So this is pure myth. The device she is referring to is a weaner. It does not go ‘through’ the nose. In fact, it has rounded balls and fits into the nose. Some of them have do have spiky plastic on them, some are just flat metal. Now here’s the deal. These are not used in newborn dairy calves! Like, ever. They are sometimes used for beef calves when they need to be weaned, and are sometimes used on older dairy calves to prevent sucking on pen-mates. Sometimes they are even used on very badly behaved cows who think it’s cool to suck on other cows, or even themselves (cows aren't known for being brilliant, or politically correct).

Calves are social creatures, and tend to do better when raised in groups. The problem is, calves, like children, don’t know what is and isn’t healthy for them.

Calves need to be fed a certain quantity of milk every day. A cow will self regulate a calf so it doesn’t get too much. Calves won’t do that for themselves. It’s just like kids, they’ll eat as much candy as you put in front of them. When we humans feed calves the scientifically researched amount they should have, the calf will often still appear hungry. If we give in, and feed it more, it will get sick.

Just after sucking a bottle, or drinking from a pail, the first thing the calf wants to do is suck on something else, because it takes a few minutes for the message to get from the stomach to the brain to tell the calf that ‘you are in fact, full, and should go lie down and digest for a bit.’ This means calves will often try to suck anything in sight, and sometimes this means other calves. Calves sucking other calves is a great way to spread germs around. Wouldn’t you love to go to pick up your kid from daycare and find out they’d been licked by three other kids? Yeah, exactly.

Most calves don’t suck other calves incessantly, so this is a non-issue. Occasionally, a calf will refuse to stop sucking in any circumstances and something like the Kant Suk Weaner (from Nasco) is necessary. It has rounded plastic bulbs that hold it in the nose, but won’t interfere with breathing, eating, or drinking from a bucket. It prevents the calf from being able to get a grip on anything to suck and will break the habit. In 24 years of farming in a variety of places, I have seen one used once.

Just wanted to debunk that, because this is a specialized tool, used to correct chronically bad behaviour. Not something to ‘protect the product for the greedy dairy farmer’. It is more commonly used in beef herds when cows need to hurry up and wean their calves, and for older calves who won't kick the habit. This is typically when the spiky ones will be used because they will motivate the other animals that are around to keep the calf away from their udders. I personally don’t like this design, and would like to see all of them replaced with the flat plate model.

Apparently, after birth, dairy calves are forcefully ripped away from their mothers, causing grief and screaming. If you ever hear a cow scream, could you record it for me? I’ve never heard that. Then the cows sway back and forth as they go insane. Since I believe in free speech I am not going to type what I am actually thinking about this individual’s reasoning. They have a right to their own opinion, like I have a right to mine.

Although I mentioned earlier that cows do form bonds with other cows. Dairy cows aren’t known for being good mothers. A good cow will lick her calf off after it is born, and she will normally allow it to suck if it’s smart enough to get up and do so; however, the truth is, unless the calf was born on pasture and not seen until several hours later, the calves usually are not allowed to suck their mothers.

The reason, is that that first milk, or colostrum is of utmost importance to a newborn calf. The gut is only able to absorb the antibodies for about 12 hours, and is most sensitive for the first 30 minutes. A healthy calf should get up and drink within one hour, but before it actually finds a teat and figures out how to suck, it has probably spent a lot of time licking and sucking on other parts of mom, like her legs and tail, which even in a clean barn or pasture, are going to have bacteria on them. The goal with colostrum is to have it be the first substance that ever goes into the calf.

To ensure the calf gets clean colostrum as soon as possible after birth, farmers often try to be present when the calf is born. Some go as far as installing cameras in the barn so they can monitor the cows at any time without disturbing them. When the calf is born, the mother is allowed to lick it off, which dries it and prevents it from getting chilled. If the cow doesn’t lick the calf, the farmer will dry it off with blankets or towels. Then the cow will have her udder washed with warm, soapy water, and some of her colostrum will be milked out and fed to her calf from a sanitized bottle. If all goes well, the colostrum can be the first thing into the calf in as little as 15 minutes, sometimes before the calf even gets up. Putting a weaning device on a newborn calf is completely outside of what a farmer actually does for a newborn calf.

As for the calf being removed from the mother, again dairy cattle aren’t great mothers as a general rule. Sometimes some bawling will take place, but certainly not the “mother cows often go insane from the grief and begin to scream out in anguish for their young ones. They start to sway side to side in clear distress” cited in the article. Again, if you ever hear a cow screaming, tape record it and send it to me. And I’ve never seen a cow sway from side to side in insane anguish. None of the above statement is consistent with anything I’ve ever seen of bovine behaviour. Now blowing a the door frame out of a barn door because three of them saw food and decided to go through at once, yeah, that is cow behaviour I have seen.

A cow having her farmer raise her calf is no different than you sending your kid to daycare and entrusting someone else to feed, clothe and manage their behaviour while you are doing other things. Daycare and babysitters is entirely accepted by today’s society, so I’m not sure why hand raising young farm animals causes so much cultural uproar.

Now I think this next statement is what bothered me the most in the entire article “But what happens to the calves? It really depends on the factory; many calves are beaten, frozen, or starved to death”. Really? I have been to literally dozens of dairy farms, talked to probably a hundred producers, worked on numerous farms for days on end, but never ever seen the beaten, frozen carcass of a calf left to die. I’ve seen calves die, that’s for sure, but only after a farmer has done everything possible to save their life. This statement really makes me thing the author of this should consider turning their attention to the poor puppies and kittens that are being left out on the streets of our great cities every day since they really have no idea what they are talking about.

The final statement in the article concerns veal calves. To be honest, I always felt a little bad for veal calves, until I saw them selling at OLEX a couple of years ago. Veal ‘calves’ are not calves. While milk fed veal are smaller and younger than grain fed veal, they are far from the poor little infants spoken about in the article.

Grain fed veal are actually young bulls. They weigh around 900 lbs and are some of the sleekest, fattest cattle you’ll ever see. Since most of them are Holsteins, their black hides gleam in the light and you can tell at a glance they’ve had the best of care. Yes, their final destination is the table, but they’ve sure enjoyed their life up to this point.

You have as much free speech as I do, and you are free to sign any petition, and agree with any statement you want. I do ask that before you post a petition, and get people all tied in a knot about it, that you check your facts. Don’t spread propaganda that isn’t true.

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