Dairy

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The facts

The majority of the roughly 1.6 million dairy cows in Australia live on conventional dairy farms. On these farms, cows are kept in an almost perpetual state of pregnancy and lactation in order to produce milk year round. The cows calf (give birth) once a year and lactate for around 10.5 months of the year. The average lifespan of a dairy cow in Australia is 6-7 years, whereas a cow’s natural life-span is 20-25 years. Once a cow is no longer able to calve or produce sufficient quantities of milk, it is sent to slaughter.

According to the RSPCA, the sheer scale of commercial milk production has led to some serious animal welfare problems in the dairy industry¹. These issues include:

    • The fate of bobby calves: Once a cow gives birth her calf is removed within 12 hours. This is stressful for both the cow and the calf. Some bobby calves (newborn calves that are less than two weeks old and not with their mothers) are reared for veal production, while about one quarter of the heifers calves (females) will become replacements for adult milk-producing cows. The rest, around 900,000 per year, are sent to slaughter once they are 5 days old
    • Painful procedures such as dehorning/disbudding and tail docking, which are performed without anaesthesia
    • The side effects of intensive production e.g. infections of the teat and udder (mastitis) and foot problems (e.g. laminitis) which can cause significant pain
    • The live export of often pregnant dairy cows

 

To learn more about these and other animal welfare issues associated with the dairy industry go to: RSPCA – Dairy Cows

 

What are the alternatives?

The only alternative to conventional dairy farming in Australia at present is the organic/biodynamic dairy industry. While not perfect, the organic/biodynamic standards specify that:

    • Dehorning/disbudding is only permitted with anaesthetic
    • Tail docking is prohibited
    • Live exports are prohibited

One organic dairy company, Elgaar Farm in Tasmania, is taking ethical dairy farming to a new level. As a certified organic dairy farm they follow the organic standards, but it is their treatment of dairy cows no longer fit for milking duties that really sets them apart. Instead of sending these cows to the abattoir, the cows spend the rest of their natural lives grazing in a paddock. One of their cows lived to the ripe old age of 38! See Elgaar Farm to find out more.
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Highest animal welfare choices:

  • Certified organic and biodynamic dairy products
  • Look for the following logos:

 

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  • Many of the large and some of the smaller supermarket chains carry certified organic dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt)
  • Specialty health food stores
  • Organic butchers and butchers specializing in free range meats often sell some dairy products
  • Farmers’ markets: see farmersmarkets.org.au to find markets in your local area
  • See our Where to Buy page for stockists and online retailers

 

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References

¹RSPCA – Dairy Cows

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