About a month ago, Farm Sanctuary’s Southern California shelter rescued a baby calf who was destined to become veal. He was found in a pen with other calves at the San Bernardino County Hallmark slaughterhouse by the President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary, Gene Baur. Just a few days old when he arrived at the shelter, this wide-eyed baby was weak and hungry and had an infection in his umbilical cord, which was still attached.
Caregivers on site immediately bottle fed him and treated his umbilicus with iodine (evident in a few of the photos), and after a rocky first few days, the resilient calf began to eagerly accept the food and became more energetic and enthusiastic about feeding. This spunky, adorable little ball of energy was affectionately named Safran.
Nothing in the world is more effective for the animal rights message than actually getting to know a farm animal first hand. This bouncing, baby boy has the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen and will bat his thick lashes to make you fall in love with him instantly, if you hadn’t already.
It’s of major importance to a cow’s development to bond with family as they grow. Their physical well-being is at risk if they don’t get to have relationships with their parents and siblings. Safran has had caregivers with him around the clock to be sure he is getting enough food and attention. I have been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time with Safran during his recovery at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres, and I am so happy to be able to share with you all the true face of dairy.
As with every calf born to a dairy cow, Safran was separated from his mother moments after his birth and may have never had any of his mother’s milk, which contained necessary nutrients intended specifically for him to grow and develop naturally. Among these are antibodies and colostrum, being denied these nutrients leaves calves very susceptible to immune disorders.
Calves’ instincts make them need to suckle almost constantly so they can get the nutrition they need to build their immune systems. Without a mother to get milk from, Safran eagerly nuzzled and suckled on the fingers of the caretakers and volunteers taking care of him. Sharing the first moments in his life where he bonds with other beings was easily the most heartbreaking and magnificent thing I have ever experienced. The day I met Safran, I went home and cried that he had lost his mother in such a horrific way. From then on, I had an overwhelming desire to protect him and do whatever I could to keep him safe. I know that all of the caretakers and volunteers who have been lucky enough to spend time with Safran feel the same way as I do, that we are all his parents, and we need to fight to not only keep him safe and let him grow, but to protect others just like Safran who are born into lives of abuse and reckless negligence.
The veal industry, just like the dairy, meat and egg industries, relies almost solely on the invisibility of their practices to stay in business. Dairy farms, as I have covered in previous posts, are constantly, forcibly and painfully impregnating female cows with machines (commonly referred to as “rape racks” in the animal rights community) so that they can continue to milk them. Just like humans, cows don’t produce milk unless they are pregnant, so factory farm workers will artificially inseminate cows just months after giving birth to get them to start producing milk again. In 2007, the average cow in the dairy industry was forced to produce more than 20,000 pounds of milk in just one year. This is more than double the milk that was produced forty years previously. Dairy cows are being bred to produce more milk and are routinely injected with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone in order to force their bodies to produce far more than is natural.
The baby cows are separated from their mothers just moments after being born, they aren’t allowed to suckle or bond and are denied their mother’s milk, their most natural and necessary food, so it can be sold for human use. The pain of losing a child is not lost on the mother cows. They scream, cry until their throats are raw, thrash and wail for their children in vain, but they never get to see them. The grieving mothers often become psychically ill from the heartbreak.
What happens to the baby cows after they are taken away is even worse, unfortunately. The girls are taken to become dairy cows themselves. Cows can live to be up to twenty-five years old, but after about five years of giving birth at least once every thirteen months, (the gestation period for cows is the same as humans- nine months, and just like humans, cows naturally give birth to one to three calves in their lifetime), and being abused and neglected in their daily lives so mercilessly, most cows can no longer stand and are too weak and unhealthy to produce milk or become pregnant again, so they are sold to be slaughtered for meat in four to five years.
The boy calves are of no use to the dairy industry, so they are taken to become veal. Chained by the neck inside a crate too small to even lie down in, boy calves are force fed a liquid diet to make them anemic and gain weight quickly. Not being allowed to move keeps their muscles from turning red, which is an “unappetizing” color for veal meat. After a few weeks of this torture, veal calves are sold for slaughter.
Every time you or someone you know has dairy, it’s because a baby like Safran isn’t having it. If you think that innocent, forgiving and intelligent animals are deserving of any respect, you will keep dairy off the table from this moment on. Eating a plant based diet will prevent other babies like Safran from being torn from their mothers and treated like commodities. People like to think that dairy doesn’t require an animal to die to be produced, but in an industry designed to maximize profit, that is exactly what happens.
Safran is a lucky little guy, he gets to live out the rest of his life at Farm Sanctuary, roaming in the wide open spaces, napping in the sun and playing with his friends. However, close to one million calves per year will be slaughtered for veal, never getting to know life outside their tiny, filthy crates and abuse at the hands of humanity. Show your great capacity for compassion, and make a change in your life. Stand up and help us honor Safran’s mother by not consuming the milk of her stolen children. Go vegan!