Quick Facts on Dairy

No Humane Dairy


On dairy farms, calves are taken away from their mothers at birth. This calf would have been killed because he is male, but was rescued by a sanctuary.

Many people grow up with the myth of the happy cow. Thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on dairy advertising each year in the U.S. alone, we rarely stop to question why we would “need” the milk of another animal.

In fact, dairy consumption is so entrenched in our culture as normal and natural that many adults do not even realize cows don’t just spontaneously produce milk. Cows, like all mammals, make milk only to feed their babies. They must give birth in order to lactate.

To keep them producing at profitable yields, cows are repeatedly reimpregnated, usually once a year via invasive artificial insemination techniques.

In many respects, cows used for dairy suffer more than cows killed for beef.

Note: the following practices, while discussed using U.S. statistics, are routine practice the world over.

Forced Separation of Mothers and Calves

Like human mothers, cows carry their babies for nine months before giving birth. After a long and painful labor, their calves are permanently taken from them so that their milk can be used for human consumption. According to the USDA, 97% of calves are taken away within the first few hours; the rest are removed in the first few days. This video of a calf trying to get back to his mother reveals the suffering caused to both by forced separation.

Isolation and Confinement

More than 90% of U.S. dairy cows are confined in primarily indoor operations, with more than 60% of them tethered by the neck inside barren stalls, unable to perform the most basic natural behaviors essential to their well-being.

Some humane label farms permit dairy cows to live on pasture. However, even on small farms and humane label dairy farms, calves are taken away from their mothers.

Female calves typically spend their first two months of life confined in lonely hutches with no maternal nurturing, no bodily contact with other calves, and no room to play or run.


Whether on factory farms or pastured farms, dairy cows are slaughtered at only a fraction of their natural lifespan, when their milk production declines. In the U.S. alone, approximately three million young dairy cows are slaughtered each year, processed into supermarket ground beef and restaurant hamburgers.

Dairy = Veal

The veal industry would not exist without the dairy industry.

The constant cycle of forced pregnancy and birth that dairy cows endure creates a huge number of “excess” calves. Because male calves cannot produce milk and are not the breed preferred for beef, they are typically sold to be slaughtered for veal.

The majority of calves used for veal are confined in isolated hutches, crates or stalls, many chained in spaces so narrow, they cannot even turn around.

Calves used for veal are slaughtered at anywhere from a few days old to 20 weeks of age. Approximately 750,000 calves are killed for veal each year in the U.S. Learn more about the fate of dairy calves.

No Need for Dairy — Mothers’ Milk is Species-Specific

Humans have no biological need to consume the mothers’ milk of other animals.

Mammals’ milk is species specific, meaning the only milk we need to consume comes from our own mothers, and only while we are infants.

Human milk contains exactly the right ratio of fatty acids, lactose, protein and amino acids for human infant development, whereas cows’ milk contains concentrations of hormones and proteins designed to turn an 80-pound calf into an 800-pound cow by one year of age.

As one nutritionist notes, “Milk from cows and goats is quite different in composition than human breast milk and, therefore, should not be fed to human infants. Human milk, which is designed specifically for promoting infant health, is much lower in protein, calcium, and sodium, and higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates, folate, and vitamin C.”

What You Can Do

Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to ditch dairy cruelty.

There are a wide variety of delicious plant-based dairy alternatives, from ice cream and cheese to milk, yogurt, butter, and sour cream.

Baking with plant-based milks is also a breeze and yields results just as delicious as traditional recipes. Check out our tips on Non-Dairy Baking.

Learn more about dairy alternatives at Your Guide to Going Dairy-Free.

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