Living in California, the largest dairy state, it's hard not to hear about the "plight" of dairy farmers. Feed prices are up. Milk prices for producers are down significantly. Farmers are left with decisions to make and who do they turn to when times are tough? Apparently, Cooperatives Working Together - a collection of dairy co-ops that get to benefit any time a down-and-out-of-luck dairy farm participates in their herd retirement program.
You heard that right, herd retirement. If you are a cynic when it comes to the language industry uses, you probably laughed darkly at that nice little term. If you are unfamiliar with the way agri-business spins and twists and confuses with language, then you might think herd retirement was synonymous with green pastures and nice, new cow sanctuary digs. Or maybe you do realize that herd retirement = slaughter. I mean, I know people generally like to consider a permanent retirement from the work place, but this is a bit of an extreme interpretation of the word.
If you're like this farmer, this is how hard the decision to retire your herd might be:
"He said it was the hardest thing he ever had to do," she said. "Luckily, my boys could do it."Yes, it must have been downright tough-as-nails hard carting off 1,500 cows to slaughter. Lucky!! Someone else did it for this guy. Left out of the equation are the cows. You know the herd about to be retired? How do you suppose they felt being crowded into metal containers, transported miles to the nearest abattoir, unloaded, poked and prodded, shoved and pushed, forward motion to the man or woman who would punch a hole in their heads, cut their throats, butcher their bodies?
I am a compassionate person. But let's face facts, here: This family (and in all honesty, I wish them economic success w/o animals) has profited off of the exploitation and use of another species without their consent. These cows have had thousands of gallons of milk taken from them for people to drink, they have given birth to calves they've never nursed. This is their send-off gift of retirement? Well, it is just sooner than normal - all dairy cows are slaughtered, of course, even when they could live another decade.
Back to the Cooperatives Working Together (CWT). They even have a program where you can include all of the bred heifers in the herd. Bred heifers = pregnant. It does not matter if the cow is 45 days pregnant or full-term, nine-months pregnant - CWT will buy them for a flat fee of $700/cow. What happens to these pregnant cows? Their babies? Generally the cow is stunned and her throat cut. Inside her, the calf - if he is full-term - will struggle with her as she dies (for as she dies, so does he). The cow may then be cut open and her fully-conscious or, by then, dead calf removed from her womb. The calf may be used for research, his blood pumped from a still-beating heart to make use of their fetal blood serum. This is done without anesthesia. The calf might just have her throat cut as well (without a stunning blow to the head) and be processed alongside her mother. Mostly, the calves will be cut from their mother's body and their skin turned into soft leather. That last link has a video. It's graphic, you have been warned.
This year alone, CWT has paid for the slaughter of 225,000 cows. That's almost as many cows they've paid to kill since they formed in 2003. Around 55,000 cows are being killed per week - that's 7,850 cows a day or 327 cows every hour being slaughtered. Generally, around 2 million dairy cows are slaughtered annually, but at the current pace, another million - 3 million total - will be killed.
So who benefits from the CWT? Certainly not the cows and calves - they're killed. The farmers who "retire" their herds? The money they get per hundredweight of their cows is hardly worth calling home about. It certainly won't help the farmer retire. They have to sell their entire herd to benefit from the CWT program and they can't use that money to buy more cows. Member groups certainly benefit. They're buying into a system that winnows down a diverse group of farmers to a small, more homogeneous group of farmers (those big co-ops, primarily). They certainly benefit from less competition. That does not seem like a good thing for anyone.
Help give cows a real retirement by supporting sanctuaries and vegan outreach groups. Reduce the amount of money you spend on animal products, choose alternatives, try veganism. These are meaningful ways to help animals.