“All dairy operations, whether conventional or organic, exist solely by doing to millions of defenseless females the worst thing anyone can do to a mother.”
- Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary
Every year in the month of May, the arrival of Mother’s Day marks an occasion to reflect on not only the love of our own mothers, but the essence of motherhood itself, and what it means for us and our culture. But as we send cards, flowers, gifts and poetry to the women in our lives who have cared for and nurtured us, we are perhaps overlooking an opportunity to look more honestly at our society’s hypocrisy when it comes to the same profound relationship among members of other species.
Humans are far from the only animals to experience the deep connection between mother and child. In fact, this might be one of the very experiences that is universal — crossing all boundaries between species. And yet, somehow, we manage to suppress our awareness of this all-important bond when it involves individuals who are different from us, especially when acknowledging this fact would require us to make a change in our own behavior, such as eliminating our dependence on the products of animal husbandry.
It is impossible to separate our use of animals as economic resources from our exploitation of their reproductive systems. After all, there would be no animal industries (whether on a small or a large scale), without ongoing breeding and birthing. When domesticated animals become mothers, their children belong to someone else, and not only are they nearly always separated from their young shortly after birth, but they have no power whatsoever over the future their child will be forced to endure. Although this is true for all animals living under the oppressive regime of human control (from ‘layer’ hens to ‘pet’ dogs), nowhere is it more apparent or more brutal than with cows being used for dairy production.
Not only do dairy cows experience an enforced repetitive cycle of insemination, pregnancy and birthing, but once their young are taken away (often to be killed for veal production), they are subjected to the ongoing pillaging of the parts of themselves that are designed to nurture and to nourish the children they have lost. This is how we obtain the milk that is consumed all over the world, whether the cows are factory-farmed, organic, free-range, grass-fed, or ‘humanely raised.’
Dairy milk is produced by a mother cow’s body to feed her baby, just as human milk is produced for the same purpose. Humans are the only animal that consumes milk after weaning, and we are the only animal that consumes the mammary milk of another species. The only thing that keeps us consuming it, en masse, is the fact that we continue to deny that this is an extremely bizarre and barbaric practice. But it is. Bizarre, barbaric and tragic for the victims of the industry we have created to feed our insatiable appetite for a substance our bodies can barely tolerate.
Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has a description of the experience of mothering as it happens for millions of cows every year. Here is an excerpt:
Some try to fight off the attackers, some try to shield their babies with their own bodies, some chase frantically after the transport, some cry pitifully, some withdraw in silent despair. Some go trustingly with their keepers only to return to an empty stall. They all beg for their babies in language that requires no translation: They bellow, they cry, they moan. Many continue to call for their babies for days and nights on end. Some stop eating and drinking. They search feverishly. Many refuse to give up and will return to the empty spot again and again. Some withdraw in silent grief.
At four months old, the “veal” calves are corralled into trucks and hauled to slaughter. As they are dragged onto the killing floor, they are still looking for their mothers, still desperately needing her nurturing presence, especially at that dark time when they are frightened and needing protection more than ever in the midst of the terrible sights, and sounds, and scents of death all around them, and, in their despair, in their want for a shred of consolation and protection, most try to suckle the fingers of their killers.
As we reflect on the powerful relationship that links a mother to her child, we have an opportunity to try and see other animals for who they really are, and to attempt to understand what they must mean to each other — to the family members they are linked with, and whom they have need of on the most fundamental level.
When babies are terrified for their lives, when mothers are grieving for their stolen young … They may not be human — they may be cows, pigs, sheep or elephants … But to each other, they are simply mother and child.