Of course, I love all animals but I really do hold a very large soft spot for cows. I tear up just thinking about them and make sure to wave at them anytime I go past a field full of them. After all, it costs nothing to show a bit of kindness does it?
I decided for Veganuary to talk through the lives of the main animals who are used for the production of meat. Today, we’ll be looking at the life of a cow: from birth to when they’re sent for slaughter.
When a calf is born, their fate is decided and this will be completely dependent on whether they’re born of dairy or meat breeds.
For most calves, they’re taken away from their mother within the first 24 hours after birth. Cows are very emotional animals. When the calf is separated from the mother, both of them become very distressed. It is from here that they’ll start making loud calls to each other, which in the wild would be their way of reuniting
‘Bobby calves’ – which is a calf that’s less than 30 days old, may be slaughtered on the farm after separation. This is if they’re of no use for either raising as a dairy or meat cow.
Each year, 95,000 bobby calves in the UK are killed. To make you think about this more, that’s 260 baby calves a day. Many of these calves are then fed to hunting hounds.
First few months of life.
If a calf isn’t slaughtered, 60% will be reared in an individual pen for the first 8 weeks of their life. This has long term effects on both their physical and social development.
In the UK, it’s now a legal requirement for the cows to be put into groups after the initial 8 weeks confinment.
At merely a few weeks old, many cows will then go to market to be sold to other farmers. From here they’ll be reared into a dairy or beef cow.
After birth, may calves are subject to mutilation. The types of mutilation they undergo are;
- Tail docking
- Ear tagging
Read more on this here: Mutilation of Cattle.
We’ve talked about the production of dairy in another post, which I’ll link here: Because You’re Not a Baby Cow & The Effects of Dairy. In this post, I’ll talk more about the actual life of them.
For those that are purchased at market, they’ll be the replacement for older dairy cows who will be culled as they’re ‘spent’. This means they’ve produced the milk needed for the farmers and are no longer of use.
A female cow can start giving birth from around 2 – 3 years of age. They’ll be given hormones and steroids which help them produce around 10 times the amount of milk they would naturally. You can read more about the diseases and life paths of dairy cows here: Despair, Separation and Disease.
There’s also a great deal of information about the lives of cows here: The Life of Dairy Cows.
Once they’ve given birth and the calves have been taken away from them around 3 – 4 times, the cow will be seen as ‘spent’ and culled due to it no longer being in use to the farmer. Not the life to lead.
As many of you will know, veal is the meat of a young cow. 8 months old to be exact.
After being torn from it’s mother and raised in an individual pen, many will then be raised in a crate, where it’s fed a specific diet to fatten it up ready for slaughter.
It’s important to note, although the UK has made it illegal there’s many countries which still use narrow veal crates. This is where the calf is chained within a 22 by 55 inch crate, meaning it’s not able to do anything but stand and lie down until slaughter.
Read more on veal here: Babies on the Menu.
Many cows raised for beef are put into fattening sheds or ‘feedlots’. This is where they’re fed a diet of mainly grain to help them gain weight as quickly as possible.
For a beef cow, they’ll tend to be slaughtered by the age of around 1 – 2 years. This will be dependent on their breed.
It’s also important to note an average cow would weigh around 900 – 1100lbs (which is around 400 – 500kg). For beef, the cows are fed a high grain diet so they’re packing a weight of around 1300 – 1500lbs (580 – 680kg).
With higher weight, comes the need for more food and water supply per cow, which we’ll talk about next.
What do cows eat?
When being raised for dairy or beef, many cows will eat a diet of high grain. In the wild, cows would graze day to day on grass, drink milk from their mothers if a calf and also water. No further nutrients are needed for a cow to survive.
When travelling around the country, you probably see cows grazing on a field. Although this may be the case, there’s a high chance they only get to do this for around 6 months of the year. When not grazing, they’ll be in barns, feeding on mass produced grain.
It’s also important to be aware that some cows are ‘zero-grazing’. This is exactly as it sounds and means they’re raised inside for their whole lives. You can see more on this here: The Myth of Cows out to Pasture.
Cows are actually vegans themselves. If they can get everything they need including protein from grass, then why can’t you?
In the UK, many cows are slaughtered by being stunned by a captive-bolt pistol. This essentially stuns them and often destroys part of the brain. If not stunned this way, they’ll be killed with electricity. This is when an electric current is applied to both the brain and heart at the same time. After being stunned, the throats are slit and they’ll bleed out.
If an animal is not accurately stunned or the correct cartridge strength is not used, the stun will not be effective. These animals experience the pain of being shot in the head and will either be stunned again (a difficult procedure) or continue on for knifing whilst conscious.
Read more on this here: The slaughter of farmed animals.
In the UK alone around 2.6 million cows are put through this slaughter each year and as of the title of this post, cows scream louder than carrots.
Amount of water and food needed for a cow.
To raise a cow on a farm who weighs the average of 580kg, they’ll need approximately 18kg of food and 62 litres of water. In hot weather, they’ll actually need twice the amount of water, meaning it could be around 125 litres.
Did I mention this was PER DAY?!
The food they’re given is also not their natural diet, which causes higher methane to be released into our environment. It’s also filled with steroids, hormones and even antibiotics to fight disease and make them get bigger fast.
The food chain.
Believe it or not, cows are at the bottom of the food chain. As vegans, they don’t intentionally eat any living animals and in the wild would live on a diet of just grass and water – much like other big mammals in the world which we’ll talk about in a later post.
When in their natural habitat, cows do become prey for carnivores. Lions, leopards, bears, wolves and tigers are all known to hunt cows for their own diet.
Sainsbury’s Beef Burgers per 100g
Saturated fat: 7.4g
Plant Pioneers Ultimate Plant Burgers per 100g
Saturated fat: 1.9g
For more on plant milk swaps, see this post: Plant Milk Vs. Dairy.
As humans, we don’t have any need to eat beef or dairy, it really is just a case of something we can have and I hope this post has also made you realise what the cows go through for your meal.
As always, pop me any questions you have below and I’ll be happy to answer them. On my Instagram I’ll be posting illustrations, inspiration and facts about veganism – so be sure to follow me on there too!
Love, always – B
Etsy shop: beccabynature