The dark side of the dairy industry: the baby animals that die for our cheese

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Last month I drove out to Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal sanctuary that rescues creatures of all kinds, often from cruelty situations. During my tour I was introduced to 14 male baby goats, running through a field, playfully head butting each other.

 

“We rescued these 14 little boys,” said Executive Director, Laura Henderson. “They came from a dairy and unfortunately baby boys are considered byproducts of milk production. These guys were scheduled to be killed with a hammer blow to the head. They were taken from their mothers too early, which is standard practice at dairies, unfortunately. We had a really neat opportunity to step in and rescue them.”

This was completely new information to me. I never thought about what happened to the male goats and cows born on dairy farms.

“Male babies, unfortunately, are considered almost waste,” Henderson said. “That’s how the veal industry came to be. Some farmers said, hey, we’re just killing these babies. Why don’t we try and make some money off of them? So they came up with a delicacy now known as veal. But often with animals like goats, where there isn’t a delicacy for male baby flesh, the babies are often just killed.”

There are lots and lots of baby animals born at dairies because, of course, in order to produce milk, a mother needs to have a baby. So female cows are on strict breeding schedules.

After visiting the sanctuary I searched around online, looking for dairies that don’t kill baby animals, and I found the Gita Nagari farm in rural, Port Royal Pennsylvania. Co-president PJ Dasi says they’re the first and only slaughter-free dairy in the country and the world.

“Milk is the most regulated food in the USA,” Dasi said. “We are the only slaughter-free dairy that’s certified by the USDA and the PDA, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. When I researched dairies out there, many claimed to have humane practices. I phoned a few of them but none actually do not slaughter cows. I asked one farm that makes many claims about compassionate principles and their bull calves become freezer beef. I phoned another farm and I said, ‘What happens to the mothers after they’re done giving milk?’ And they said, ‘Well, they’re sent to market.’”

The dairy industry is actually quite complex and, the way Dasi explains it, big, traditional dairy farms can’t make enough money selling milk alone.

“When [a farmer] gets his bills at the end of the month, and maybe his income is, let’s say, $18,000 and his expenses are $22,000, to make that shortfall he looks at his weakest cows and that’s when he seems to slaughter. And that’s how he makes that shortfall. So they’re kind of trapped in that system. If they were to transition to this model of not killing the cows, offering their milk at a higher price, simply because that’s what it takes to maintain the cow. That’s the real price, the rest is artificial. The real economics is $14 a gallon, up to $18 a gallon in California and $22, I believe, in Canada.”

It makes sense that factory farms are still the main source of milk and meat. According to Dasi, if we want  our milk to be produced as humanely as possible, the price would shoot up from $4 a gallon to at least $14 a gallon.

And the $14 a gallon Gita Nagari cows are probably living the best cow lives in the world.

“There’s a lot of human contact, a lot of brushing, checking their feet are in good shape, their eyes are nice and healthy and glassy, they have good breathing,” Dasi said. “And then a lot of love and affection because they’re very naturally affectionate. They cuddle against you and they lick you. They love greens and apples. When we bring them in for milking, the milking herd, we always have soft music playing.”

Unlike at conventional dairies, where cows are slaughtered once they’re too old to produce milk, at Gita Nagari they’re allowed to live out the rest of their lives grazing in a field.

None of the Washington dairies I contacted for this story returned my calls.

By Rachel Belle, KIRO Radio, Ron and Don Show Reporter, MyNorthwest.com 

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