Life of a Dairy Calf

It is early in the morning when he first meets the earth. He stands on trembling legs against the cold concrete floor. His brave, tired mother kisses him all over, expressing love and care for her newborn baby. After nine months of carrying her child, he is finally here. Her first born. Little do they know, a calf’s future is predetermined by its sex, and as a male, his life is worth very little.

He breastfeeds from his mother, merely a nameless number. When you belong to someone else, what is the point of being given a name? He his happy to lie with her, blissfully ignorant of what will happen in a few hours time.

'Navetta' by Oikeutta eläimille is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Worth nothing more than a number

Less than twenty-four hours go by before he is moved again. He has drank from his mother’s breast three times, now, her milk is no longer his. A rope is wrapped around him and he is pulled away. Took weak to resist, he has little choice but to comply. It takes more to hold back his mother though, as she screams and cries in panic. She wants to nurse and care for her baby, but instead, she is being dragged away from the maternity pen and into a new shed where her udders will provide nothing but a mere profit for humans.

What happens to her baby?

As a male born calf, his job was done the moment he was born. This crying, trembling, worthless baby means nothing to a dairy farmer now. The short-lived life of a male dairy calf is an unhappy one.

'Frail Calves unloaded at stockyard' by Farm Sanctuary is licensed for use under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Newborn calves being transported to livestock markets.

Ignoring his beating heart, his brain, his tears, his love for his mother, he is sold as a product to another farm. He is bundled onto a trailer and driven for miles. He is confused, and scared. He wants his mum. He doesn’t want to be alone.

At the new farm, his death-date has already been marked into a calendar. Two months is all they need. His new home is tiny, cramped, and full of confusion. His neighbours  – other babies snatched away from their families – don’t know what’s going on, either. New calves come and go almost every day. He is fed a white, milk substitute which makes him grow uncomfortably large. He can’t fit properly in his crate.

'Navetta' by Oikeutta eläimille is licensed for use under CC BY 2.0

Imprisoned just for being a calf

After a mere few weeks it is impossible for him to stand up or lay down with ease. He can’t get comfortable, he can’t turn around. He can’t move. He cries for his mother – for anyone – to save him. Every calf around him is doing the same.

On his death day, he is pushed into a line of other babies. They are all two months old. They are rounded up onto a truck. He is squashed against the wall, his face against a tiny window. A gasp of fresh air. Once the truck is full to the brim of trembling animals, the long journey begins. The babies by the window catch glimpses of the fields and the trees. They can barely breathe. This is even worse than the previous crate! Beside him, another calf has fallen down. He doesn’t get up again.

The stench of fear is foul. When will the journey end? Where are they going? What will happen? Why have I been brought into this life of misery, fear, and suffering?

We all know how the story goes. There is no happy ending. This baby calf, along with millions of others are killed yearly for cheap meat. Nameless, living beings are all subjected to needless suffering in the name of profit. The babies will be forced up a ramp, into a slaughterhouse, where they have no choice but to wait for their turn to die.

Murder – whether done to humans or non-human animals – is unethical. We don’t need cow’s milk, but calves do. We don’t need to eat cow to stay alive, so why do millions of them have to die?

To end this post, I want to share with you an occasion where the compassion of humans brought a calf and their mother back together. I only wish all babies could be brought home to their parents.

“In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.

-Ruth Harrison

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Image Attribution

Navetta‘ by Oikeutta eläimille is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Frail calves unloaded at stockyard‘ by Farm Sanctuary is licensed for use under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Navetta‘ by Oikeutta eläimille is licensed for use under CC BY 2.0


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