by Diana G.
A memory: Our newborn is up again. I turn to the clock. It’s 4:25 am. Less than three hours since she last awoke. My husband and I are exhausted, and we lie quietly for a few moments, willing our daughter back to sleep. But her cries are persistent. Who knows if she’s hungry, cold, or simply distressed and looking for comfort?
Regardless, we’ve reached our “give-her-a-moment” limit; there’s only so long one can ignore an infant baby’s cries. My husband grabs for his glasses, makes his way to the
nursery, and returns with our loosely swaddled howling bundle. He lays her beside me and her whimpers subside. She begins to nurse. We are calmed. At that moment, there is no more peaceful sound than the blissful rhythm of our baby sucking.
The calf is born. Cold and disoriented, its mother nestles close to provide warmth; she guides her baby’s mouth toward her udders. The calf suckles and then falls asleep by its mother.
The mother and child remain this way, comforted, nurtured by each other’s presence. The calf awakes and drinks more of the colostrum, or early milk, from its mother. This liquid gold is rich in antibodies, essential for the health and growth of the baby calf, but not fit for human consumption. Within 24 hours, the calf has done its job, drunk all the colostrum. The cow’s milk fills her udders. This milk, unlike the colostrum, is valuable and will be collected for humans.
It is time; a farmhand waits until mother and baby are sleeping side-by-side, lifts the baby to its feet and nudges it away. The unnecessary cost has been removed; this calf, like all the others on this farm, is separated permanently from her mother. This calf will never again drink its mother’s milk.
Neighbors awake. They hear strange noises: indescribably, inhuman, and unrecognizable. The sounds are clearly coming from creatures in distress. Between midnight and 7:00 am, at least four neighbors alert the police. Officers are dispatched to the dairy farm to investigate the source of the eerie, troubling sound. Assurances are given that all is well.
This is just business as usual. The calf must not drink the profits. The cow and calf’s time together has ended. But maternal-child bonds are not easily broken. The separation causes extreme anxiety and suffering. The bellows emanate from the mother cow lamenting the separation from her baby. Gates will be check to ensure she is securely penned. It is not uncommon for a mother cow to trek for miles in search of her calf. Sadly, this pregnancy, birth, separation, commercial milk production cycle which is forced upon the cows continues. Lactation will not occur otherwise.
Dairy products are suffused with the suffering of a mother and a child separated and unable to soothe one another. I hear their cries and cannot ignore them.
Diana G. is a plant based nutrition/cooking teacher with a BA in nutritional sciences from Cornell, and an MA in Education from Harvard. She is a mother of three and an animal rights advocate. Her article was inspired by this article and this book.