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Factory Farmed Cows

moo cowWhen we think of cattle, many of us imagine huge animals grazing contentedly in a green field, with their offspring nearby frolicking in the sun and fresh air. Unfortunately, many of today’s farmed cattle are increasingly anything but content. In fact, most cattle raised for meat or dairy products live a life of deprivation and disease. Read the following FAQs to learn more about factory farmed cattle in the United States.

What are cows naturally like?

When given the chance to live a healthy, normal lifespan of 25 years or more, cattle will form family units comprised of one bull (intact male), several cows (females who have had at least one calf), and their calves. Their diet consists of a wide variety of plant life. Cattle are social animals with distinct personalities and generally interact with their peers in complex ways. They have best friends and form cliques with a set hierarchy. The leader of a herd is usually the most intelligent and experienced of the group. Relationships, especially between sisters and mothers and their female offspring, are particularly close.

What happens to cattle raised for beef?

Approximately 41 million beef cattle are slaughtered in the United States each year. Cattle raised for beef usually start their lives on open range land where they eat a more traditional diet.
However, cattle are still sometimes branded with hot irons to show ownership. Branding, a century-old custom, is accomplished by placing a hot iron against the animal’s skin and burning the rancher’s mark into the cattle’s flank. Also, they have their ears pierced with identification tags, and males have their testicles cut off. Some cattle may have their horns gouged out (de-horning or disbudding) to protect the animals from each other and the humans who are working with them Each of these actions is performed without the use of anesthesia.
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Do cattle raised for beef spend their entire lives on range land?

No. Life on the range ends at about one year of age when cattle are shipped to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where they are fed a diet of mainly corn. CAFOs, also referred to as feedlots and stockyards, are giant, zero-grazing lots where beef cattle stay until slaughter. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and substandard feed contribute to health problems. This intense confinement of cattle increases the risk of bacterial infection, so injectable antibiotics and hormones are used to keep them healthy and get them to slaughter weight. The European Union (EU) has banned the use of hormones in cattle and, therefore, has banned importation of American beef products that use hormones.

What happens when the cattle leave the CAFOs?

After leaving the CAFOs, cattle are shipped to slaughterhouses. Technically, only those animals who are able to walk to their slaughter are slaughtered. Downed animals are euthanized, so they do not reach the food production process. However, each animal represents a financial investment to a myriad of people involved in food animal production; so these animals may be prodded to stand upright and stagger into the slaughterhouse. Those who cannot make it into the slaughterhouse are often left for dead.

How do beef cattle operations affect the environment?

Raising beef cattle is detrimental to the environment. To produce a pound of steak, factory farmers use 2,500 gallons of water and a gallon of gasoline and destroy 35 pounds of topsoil due to erosion. In tropical countries, forests are leveled to clear land for grazing beef cattle. This newly cleared land often cannot absorb water easily, thereby increasing runoff and erosion. The loss of the tropical forests is directly linked to global warming and the loss of habitat for many species of birds, insects, and animals.

How are cows farmed for dairy products?

Nine million dairy cows live in factory farming operations in the United States. To maintain a steady supply of milk, these cows are forced to give birth every year for about three to four years until they are no longer able to produce enough milk to make them financially justifiable to the dairy industry. They are then sent to slaughter. Their offspring become part of either the dairy industry if female or the veal industry if male. Regardless of the direction these calves take, they are taken from their mothers immediately following birth.

What is life like for cows on dairy farms?

Dairy cows are kept in indoor facilities where they are fed and watered. They do not go outside to graze. Their urine and feces are removed mechanically. Their milk is removed by machines hooked up to their udders. Their tails are docked to make access to their udders easier for the person hooking up the machines. Research shows that this surgery, done without the use of anesthesia, is painful and causes chronic pain for many animals.

What happens to calves raised for veal?

Male calves are taken from their mothers at birth, or within the first 24 hours of life, and placed in veal crates, typically no bigger than 22″ wide and 58″ long, where they spend their entire lives, lying in their own urine and feces and chained to the bars of the crate. They are kept in near or total darkness. At approximately 18 to 20 weeks, they are slaughtered.

What can I do to help farmed cattle?

  • Substitute veggie-based products for beef, hamburgers, and cows’ milk.
  • Substitute synthetic materials for leather.
  • Support farmed animal sanctuaries and legislation that calls for stricter regulation and enforcement of animal welfare laws.
  • In some states, “ag-gag” laws are emerging to penalize whistle blowers who report violations on factory farms. Contact your legislator to oppose “Ag-gag” legislation.
  • Download and print or mail order NHES’ Factory Farms brochure to distribute in your community.
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