Everybody hurts – including cows

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“Everybody cries and everybody hurts”.  The famous R.E.M. song provided the highly emotional soundtrack to the “Helping Haiti” earthquake appeal.  We naturally empathized with the sufferings of our fellow human beings and responded charitably.  Yet how often do we think about whether our other companions on this planet – the animals – are also suffering; not because of natural disasters like earthquakes, but because of what we as human beings do to them?

Many people would be surprised to learn that the milk they drink is not as innocent as it looks.  Generally we don’t think twice about pouring milk over our breakfast cereal…and why should we?  After all, milk is not the product of slaughter.  Billboards, TV ads and cartoons depict happy cows grazing in open fields, mooing with contentment, giving us the warm feeling that all cows produce milk ‘naturally’ and enjoy being milked.  But if we were to take a camera to the most modern of dairy farms today, we would be shocked at the scenes of physical and emotional distress suffered by the cows in what is an unnatural, industrialised milking process (and that’s before the cows are sent off to the unimaginable suffering of the slaughterhouse).

Cows are sentient beings who are capable of experiencing a range of emotions such as pleasure and enjoyment in addition to suffering, pain and fear. Research from Bristol University has shown they have the mental capabilities to nurture friendships. All too often, people assume that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol, comments “this is a pathetic piece of logic”. Contrary to common belief, female cows do not spontaneously produce milk. Like human mothers, cows lactate to feed their newborn offspring. In the wild, cows separate themselves from the herd before giving birth and may hide their calves for several days afterwards.

Cows are extremely social animals that live in small herds, forming social hierarchies and friendship pairs. They groom each other by licking the head, neck and shoulder area and have preferred partners, grooming each other more, the longer they have known each other. Cows communicate with each other in a number of ways. Vocalisations or ‘calls’ can, for example, indicate excitement, frustration, interest, pleasure or stress. Calls may also be used to locate companions following separation.

At a conference hosted by Compassion in World Farming several years ago, Professor Webster commented “Sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are motivated to seek it. You only have to watch how cows and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads raised to the sun on a perfect English summer’s day. Just like humans.”

So let’s take the first step in treating cows with compassion and not as industrial milking machines.  Only buy organic milk, or the soon to be available slaughter-free Ahimsa variety.  After all, everybody cries and everybody hurts – including cows.

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