My first and last day
I couldn’t breathe.
I had entered the world mere seconds ago and life was a struggle already.
Being born is a messy business, and had left my mouth and nasal passages blocked with fluids and mucus.
As I fought for survival on the hard, concrete floor, I felt a piece of straw tickle the insides of my nostrils. I snorted, spluttered and coughed my way to my first breath.
“Hello world…” I thought… “not the warmest of welcomes.”
But then I felt the warmth of my mother’s tongue cleaning me, and felt her love. I lay there and basked in it, my whole life ahead of me… or so I thought.
My mum’s job is to produce milk for humans, though she never chose this work. She’s called 513472, according to her ear tag. She is only a few years old herself, but life has not been kind to her. She has been forced to have a baby every year… because this is the only way to keep her producing milk.
Like ¼ of cows farmed for dairy, she is lame from the many hours she has been forced to stand on hard concrete floors with poorly trimmed hooves.
Still, we treasured those moments together. It took just five minutes for a maternal bond to form. In our little world of concrete, straw, and cruelty – we had each other.
Mum relaxed me with that simple, instinctive act of love: licking. In those first minutes, she stimulated my breathing, drying and basic bodily functions. Thanks to her, and despite my difficult start, within 20 minutes I had stopped panting for air and was sitting up.
I had made it.
It’s hungry work, being born… and my body was urgently in need of colostrum – something naturally produced in mum’s first milk.
Within an hour of being born, I had wobbled up to my feet, and sought out her udders.
Like up to 50% of cows used by the dairy industry, mum suffers from mastitis, a painful infection of the udder. So at first it was a struggle finding a place to drink that wasn’t painful for her, but I eventually drank until my stomach was full, then I dozed off.
The next 30 minutes would be the best 30 minutes of my life. I did not know then but that was the only time I would ever sleep peacefully at my mother’s heel.
I woke suddenly.
Rough human hands were on me, dragging me away from mum. I had been alive less than two hours, but that was all I would get with her.
I heard a distressed cry from my mum, but she had no fight left. I wasn’t her first born, you see. She had gone through this year after year, suffering constant cycles of forced impregnation, childbirth, bonding and then separation… she was physically and mentally broken.
Our distressed cries were the last we would hear of one another.
The person dragging me away took one look between my legs. “Male”, he shouted to a colleague, spitting out the word.
I’m worthless to them, economically speaking.
I’ll never produce milk, so I’m told that feeding me or raising me would be a waste of resources.
Calves like me suffer one of three fates, depending on the farm in which we’re born.
The first group can expect a year or so of being intensively reared on concentrated diets before being killed for beef.
The second group are transported – often long distances – and killed at just 6-8 months for veal.
I’d soon learn that I (much like 65,000 other calves in 2022) fell into a third group…
I was dragged into the back of a van and loaded in with a load of other males, none more than a couple of days old, some no more than an hour old – all crying out for mothers we would never see again.
Everything about the next few hours was new and scary.
The shudder of the van as it moved, the heat of the vehicle, the motion sickness, the sound of distress all around me.
Like any baby, I cried and cried and cried… I just wanted my mum.
The van then suddenly came to an abrupt halt. By this time, I had spent more of my short life alone than I had spent with mum.
Then there was more rough handling, more dragging, more crying…
Then suddenly… it was all over.
…all because someone somewhere “couldn’t live without cheese”.
I would call this a day in my life, but the truth is that my life was taken after less than a day.
I was never given a name… I didn’t even live long enough to require a tag number.
Human kindness isn’t something I ever experienced, but I am reaching out to you in the hope that not all humans are like the ones I met.
I wish I had met someone who might have comforted me, protested, intervened, perhaps even tried to rescue me…
Would you have helped me?
It’s not too late to help hundreds of thousands of calves yet to be born into short and brutish lives.
The only way to end the suffering is to help farmers transition away from dairy to plant-based alternatives. That is what Animal Equality is lobbying the Government to do. By pushing the issue in the media, Animal Equality’s team is keeping the pressure on politicians.
With your donation, Animal Equality’s team can continue its fight to end the violent life-cycle of forced impregnation, childbirth, separation and death.
Will you strike at the very roots of future cruelty… will you help stop more suffering before it happens?
Please, help build a future where farmed animals are treated with the respect they deserve.
A nameless calf