The Purpose of a Dairy Cow is a Life to be Used

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Cows-in-field

A group of Dairy Cows. Source

Wherever we have technology there are humans who created it and change it, and wherever we have humans we have animals that are having technology used upon them for better and for worse. With an ongoing relationship between humans and animals, technology provides itself as a catalyst to further aide in the development of that relationship. Looking at the humble dairy cow and the technology that has changed the way we engage with them we can see both the positive and negative aspects that technology has created. The ethics involved around using technology throughout a cows’ life for its purpose in life.

Starting with the birth of baby cows; calves. We are greeted with the way in which the mother is kept and looked after. As the need to create more and more food to look after more and more people research has found that utilizing the proper housing space for your animals is beneficial to the longevity of your animals and for producing more milk. From the time of just having an open field with cows roaming, barns have been built to house cows with soft mattresses, sand beds or water beds for them to sleep on. This change of behaviour from people towards their cows is a simple matter of thinking about the care of the cow. This answered the question about what would make a cow comfortable to produce more milk with barns and mattresses among other things were the solution. This aided in the cows producing more milk but is a small scale of growth in getting results as more has been done.

The building of the barn also benefited in the birthing of calves. As with any creature that gives birth there can be complications – cows are no exception. Technology has aided in finding out signs in knowing how far along a cow is along it its production cycle and being able to identify signs that show birth is close. Those signs being change in body temperature, respiration and heart rates, enlargement of the vulva and udder changes among other things. These signs provide a guideline for when the birth may occur but the time can still change so much and the handlers would not be ready. Research conducted by R. G. Mortimer proves that the difficulty a cow faces when birthing can be detrimental to the purpose of the cow in the long run. A milking cow that faces trauma from giving birth can subsequently end up producing less milk and have difficulties getting pregnant again. Cameras and sensors have been used as a simple solution to dealing with surprise time-of-day births. As human involvement as well as technology is the solution for this crisis.

For cows that live the life of being on a dairy farm they are only useful if they produce large quantities of milk as over the years a greater demand for milk has occurred. Dairy Australia has found that over the past 30 years milk production has nearly doubled – 5,432 million litres in the 1979/80 to 9,539 million litres in 2015/16. Further research showed they produce larger quantities of milk when that have gone through the pregnancy cycle. It is now in the farmer’s best interest to get their cows pregnant as quickly as possible, having one calf after another. Technology plays a part in finding the right times of a cows’ life that “forced” pregnancy would be ideal to occur and to close the window from subsequent births. Software called AfiFarm is the most comprehensive management software that can be tailored to the farmers needs that creates an efficient way to get the most out of dairy cows. Being able to analyse weight, milk conductivity, pedometers, and the milk the cow is producing for fat:protein ratio. Problems such as illnesses and natural defects can be found and solved before they get serious and affect the milk yield from the cow. As the purpose of these dairy cows is to produce milk, if they lose their purpose then they are killed. The average life span of a dairy cow is seen to be around 20 years, however with the forced involvement of humans and technology a lot of dairy cows barely make it past 7 years old.


Looking at how often dairy cows need to be pregnant and how many calves need to be born not for the purpose of being a part of the herd but for the purpose of having the mother gestate for milk. Technology has been used in a darker, less compassionate way. These little calves that are born with no purpose and in a majority of cases are killed, or sold overseas then killed. The main purpose if not killed as soon as being born is to be crated in a small 22 inch by 54 inch for 5 to 14 weeks then killed for veal. Male dairy calves serve no purpose for producing milk or being a beef cow as the breed of cows are different, so every male calf is sent away and killed. Not every female calf escapes this fate either as the only need for a female calf is to replace a member of the herd. The Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin reports that the gender ratio of dairy cow’s calves is Male 53.3% to Female 46.7%. Taken from their mothers within 12 – 24 hours (sometimes immediately), the mothers will never see their calf again. In Australia, it has been estimated that 400,000 calves each year serve no purpose – not wanted for replacement of the herd or wanted for veal. These calves are considered as “waste products” and are destroyed within 5 – 6 days of being born.

In cases where the farmer sees the benefit in getting a pregnant cow that is close to giving birth back into the milking herd. They will call a veterinarian to induce the cow into giving birth sooner than expected, seen to be at least 3 weeks premature. In most cases the premature calf is too weak and killed instantly on the farm by the farmer. While the mother is sent back through the milking station as that is the purpose of her. The purpose that dairy cows have is straight forward, but the technology used on them as people change with technology continues to affect the animals that humans use. When there are animals that no longer serve a purpose then what happens to them is simply death. When animals serve a purpose then they are cared for and looked after as much as possible to maintain that purpose.

Solutions have been talked about in providing a more stable environment for dairy cows and their calves. Looking at having cows that are useful for both milk and beef production like the Holstein breed of cow in the pictures above is useful for multiple purposes. Farmers have also initiated an understanding of limiting the amount of milk a cow will give each day so there is always enough to raise a healthy calf. The dairy cow is quintessential to the cow milk industry so being looked after and cared for is a priority, though as technology develops and demand has been increased then there is the difficult solution of putting which priority over another.

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