A Cow's Life
From a young age we’re led to believe that dairy is a harmless by-product. But when award-winning actress, Miriam Margolyes, realised what really happens on dairy farms across Britain, she felt compelled to take action.
Just like humans, cows must give birth to produce milk. That means that every single one of the 2.6 million cows who are killed in the UK each year for their meat and milk will endure the same gruelling existence.
It’s the same story for cows across all farms. Whether intensive, free-range, organic-certified or accredited, there is a cruel cycle of suffering in all dairy farms across the UK and the world.
Each cow will be repeatedly impregnated year after year, carrying each baby for nine months.
Once born, she and her calf will be forcibly separated, usually spending just hours or days together. The milk is then taken, bottled and sold for human consumption.
Female calves follow in their mothers’ footsteps, while males are swiftly killed for their flesh or enter the cruel veal industry.
After giving birth over and again until her body becomes weak and her milk production declines, cows used for their dairy all suffer the same fate. After a few short years, they are sent to slaughter, destined to become cheap beef.
Transition to a brighter future
With 1 in 3 Brits now reported to be consuming plant-based milks on a regular basis, the nation is stepping away from supporting this industry. Our supermarket shelves are overflowing with plant-based milks, cheese and yoghurt alternatives.
Despite this, British dairy farmers received over £56 million annually in direct Government payments over recent years, making up nearly 40% of their profits.
That’s why Miriam Margolyes is joining Animal Equality in urging the UK Government to shift subsidies from the dairy industry to fund plant-based alternatives and offer financial support for farmers transitioning to arable farming or land rewilding programmes.
A brighter future is within our grasp. Make a change for cows and calves today, by ditching dairy and by signing our petition!Sign the petition
Our Investigations Inside The Dairy Industry
Animal Equality has investigated over 140 dairy farms all over the world – four here in the UK – exposing the industry’s darkest secrets.
The True Cost of Milk: An Investigation Inside a Welsh Dairy Farm
In February 2022, Animal Equality published a shocking investigation inside a UK dairy farm exposing extreme violence and neglect.
The investigation was broadcast by BBC One's Panorama in a 30-minute episode that was seen by millions.
The reaction was huge, with hundreds of outraged people pledging to ditch dairy products.
Calves Brutally Force-Fed Inside a UK Organic Farm
An Animal Equality investigation conducted into a UK organic dairy farm revealed shocking scenes of distressed calves being brutally handled and force-fed. The farm was a known supplier of Waitrose supermarkets.
The images captured by our investigators also showed the forced separation of mother cows from their calves, an inescapable part of the dairy industry.
Inside a UK 'higher welfare' dairy farm
Animal Equality investigators filmed a UK dairy farm which supplied milk to Marks & Spencer, a supermarket that promotes itself as a leader in animal welfare standards.
The images that our investigators captured show calves confined in small solitary pens for up to six months, breaking British animal welfare law which states that calves should be moved to group pens at the age of eight weeks. As sensitive and sociable animals, this isolation is unbearably difficult for the animals.
Calves Freeze to Death in a US Dairy Farm
Animal Equality released images obtained by an undercover investigator who went inside a giant American ranch that is home to over 11,000 calves and a supplier to the group that makes cheese for the well-known brand, Babybel.
The images show the immeasurable psychological pain of these calves who are separated from their mothers only half an hour after birth, after which they suffer nothing but life-long suffering and violence. They live in such extreme conditions that some of them die in agony, in the cold, with no one to care for them.
Behind Italian buffalo mozzarella
More than half a million buffaloes are bred every year in Italy, who are increasingly confined to intensive farms. Animal Equality uncovered what happens during the production of buffalo mozzarella in Northern Italy.
We documented the terrible and unsanitary conditions these animals are made to endure, including buffaloes forced to live in so much urine and faeces that it reaches their knees, male buffaloes left to die of hunger and thirst, and dead buffaloes abandoned near others who are still alive.
Facts About Dairy: What The Industry Doesn't Show You
Around 2.6 million cows are used for their milk every year in the UK and a growing number of them have never stepped foot on grass and will never see a pasture.
Because of the deceptive marketing used by the industry, few people really know what happens to cows in the dairy industry. Many people, for example, don’t realise that, just like us, cows only produce milk after giving birth.
Below are some of the abuses cows are subjected to throughout their lives. Practices that are part and parcel of typical dairy production and, most disturbingly, are perfectly legal right here in the UK.
Because they cannot produce milk, male calves are considered useless to the dairy industry. For this reason, many are killed shortly after birth.
A 2020 report revealed that an estimated 60,000 male calves each year in the UK were shot on-farm. Though this practice is now being phased out in many farms as a result of new rules from major supermarkets and assurance schemes, the ultimate fate of male calves has not changed.
Many will be sent to the slaughterhouse at just weeks old, or raised for a short time before being killed and sold as veal or beef.
Cows in the dairy industry are bred specifically to produce far larger quantities of milk than they would ever produce naturally. This unnatural milk production, combined with repeated forced pregnancies, takes a toll on their bodies.
By the time they are a few years old, they are seen as ‘unproductive’ – because they’re so exhausted and their milk production has declined – and no longer profitable to the industry.
At this point they are sent to slaughter and sold for cheap meat and leather products.
Male calves are not the only babies to be killed by the dairy industry, as some calves are killed while they are still in their mother’s womb.
An estimated 150,000 cows are killed every year in the UK while they are carrying their babies. Shockingly, many of them are in the last stage of their pregnancies, meaning their calves can suffer during and for a few minutes after the slaughter.
Approximately 90% of the pregnant cows that are slaughtered every year are cows bred for their milk.
Because the industry is constantly looking for ways to increase profits, a new system – referred to as ‘zero-graze’ – has been introduced in the UK and it is being used more and more frequently.
In a zero-graze system, a cow is not allowed to graze or be outdoors on the grass. Instead, she is fed silage (wet, fermented grass) and a high concentrate mix of cereal, soya, sunflower meal and maize.
Currently, an estimated 16% of UK dairy farms have adopted the zero-graze system and the number, sadly, is expected to grow.
Up to 50% of cows used for their dairy suffer from mastitis, an infection of the udder which causes secretion of pus.
Mastitis can be treated with antibiotics, however, this would cause the milk to be deemed unsuitable for human consumption, resulting in a loss of profit for the industry.
For this reason, if the disease has not been diagnosed or is not imminently threatening the cow’s life, cows on some farms are still milked anyway.
Because of the unnatural and barren conditions cows are kept in, they often become lame over time. Forcing them to stand for long periods of time on hard floors, improper or neglected trimming of their hooves, malnourishment, infections and overall poor quality of the facilities are the main reasons many cows lack strength and become debilitated.
Lameness affects on average 25% of cows exploited for their milk.
'Dairy cows' do not exist
Cows are often called 'dairy cows', as if their purpose in life is to produce milk for human consumption. This is a common misconception, a result of decades of advertising by the industry that wanted us to believe that drinking cow’s milk is necessary, normal and natural, when in fact the opposite is true.
But the truth is that cows used for their milk in the dairy industry are all mothers.
Just like humans, a cow only produces milk for her baby. Once she becomes pregnant, she carries her baby in her womb for nine months before giving birth. Once she gives birth, she starts producing milk for her newborn calf – milk that her baby would naturally drink during the first 10 months of his or her life. However, on dairy farms, the milk she produces will not be given to her baby, as it will instead be bottled up for human consumption. And so her calf is separated from her – often within just hours or days of being born – and swapped for a milking machine which is attached to her teats. This process lasts for three months until she is impregnated again in order to maintain unnaturally high yields of milk production.
This cruel, abusive cycle is repeated on average three or four times until the cow – exhausted by the repeated pregnancies, births and unnatural milk production – is killed and sold for cheap meat.
The separation of cows and calves is extremely distressing for both the mother and her baby. During multiple investigations carried out by Animal Equality, mother cows and their newborn calves have been filmed calling out to each other desperately for hours or searching for each other in vain. These scenes can only be described as heartbreaking.
But together we can stop this and give motherhood back to these animals. By choosing plant-based alternatives, we can spare millions of animals incredible suffering and make this world a kinder, more compassionate place.