This following picture recently appeared on my news feed:
The friend who “shared” this photo is someone I love dearly, so while my first reaction was to get blood boiling mad, I didn’t want to speak out of anger or pure emotion.
That’s exactly what this is. It’s a misleading photo, with a very convincing and emotionally gripping caption, used to lead people to believe this is how ranchers treat their cattle.
Let’s talk about what really happens. This is a dairy calf, in order for us to have milk, the cow will have to have been bred and calved. Cows start producing milk during late gestation and continue to lactate several months post calving. Second, calves aren’t “dragged” away as soon as they hit the ground. The calf has to ingest the mother’s colostrum. (Colostrum is “first milk,” it’s full of antibodies which protect the calf until it can start producing it’s own antibodies.) If colostrum is not ingested from the cow within the first 12 hours the calf will die. Then in the case of a dairy calf, it will be removed from it’s mother after about two days so she can be milked.
After the calves are removed from the mothers they are given a replacement milk to meet their nutritional needs. Think of this like feeding a baby a bottle made from formula. While my parents never had dairy calves, we sometimes had bottle calves when a cow wouldn’t take to her calf or didn’t produce enough milk to feed her baby. Bottle calves, like all babies, have to be fed more often and require lots of attention.
On the other hand, they are very cute and will absolutely melt your heart. Prepare to be head-butted a lot though. For me, as someone of small stature, being surprised with a playful head-butt by something that at birth is half my size, has knocked me to the ground a few times.
Which brings me to this next part of the above photo. If this rancher in fact “slammed the gate on her,” (the cow) there was a reason. First, for the calf to be immediately taken, there was something wrong with it. Two, keep in mind, the rancher has to protect themselves. They are working with an animal that is a lot larger than them and can seriously injure or kill them if safety precautions are not taken.
Final point, “burying her face in the muddy placenta.” People… cows eat that. All of them do. When I was younger, my sister and I would try to get it out of the stall to “help out the cow,” we didn’t know any better and we thought it was gross. Well truth of the matter is, removing it doesn’t make the cow happy, it’s their natural instinct to eat it. Along with the essential nutrients that come from eating the placenta, cows also do this to keep the birthing site clean and as a defense to keep predators from looking for an easy target.
So, now that we’ve broken all this down, I hope this picture makes more sense to anyone who may have not known. Bottom line here: the Internet is full of misleading pictures and nonfactual, emotion filled posts. As consumers you all need to be willing to be open the the real truth, and as producers you all need to be willing to explain why you do what you do. There are “bad seeds” in every industry, but as a majority, farmers and ranchers genuinely care about their animals.