Meet 1444, known to us as “Cheeky Girl”. If you were in the paddock alongside me, she would certainly want to meet you. As a calf, a yearling and now, a mature cow, Cheeky Girl’s always been one of the first in the herd to wander up to you in the paddock. You’re busy working on the fence, you turn around to see who’s sniffing you and there she is, every time!
Vegan group, Voiceless, today launched an “expose” of cruelty to Australian dairy cows called The Life of the Dairy Cow: A Report on the Australian Dairy Industry. The group claims dairy farmers are secretive and that:
“…the average dairy cow is subject to a perpetual cycle of calving, milking and forced impregnation. She has been bred to produce double the milk she could have thirty years ago, and to ensure her yield remains at its peak, she is forcibly impregnated every 13 months to produce a calf who is immediately taken away from her and, in many cases, killed within a week after birth.”
“The emotional suffering this causes, along with the physical pain inflicted through standard mutilation practices and the prevalence of painful diseases, impact negatively on her welfare, but remain mostly hidden from the view of consumers.”
Here, I’m going to tell you about the life of one of our dairy cows, Cheeky Girl. The underlined links are to previous blog posts I’ve written here on Milk Maid Marian. I’ll let you make up your own mind.
Cheeky Girl was born in July four years ago. She was conceived in the paddock after her 10-year-old mother’s courtship with one of our eight bulls. At two days old, she was brought to the warm young calf shed where, in a pen with one or two other newborns, she was protected from the devastating BJD and fed with enough vital colostrum to give her the best chance of a long life. After the 48 hour window for colostrum absorption had closed, she was offered ad-lib pellets and water to help her rumen develop.
Seven days later, after we were sure Cheeky Girl had learned to suckle strongly, she joined a group of 16 calves in this sheltered outdoor fox-proof enclosure guarded by our Maremmas, Charlie and Lola.
One morning when she was a few weeks old, Cheeky Girl’s horn buds were cauterised to protect her herd-mates (and the people who care for her) from potentially fatal injuries later in life. It’s a job we hate but one that is done in the interests of every animal and person on the farm. And, yes, we know it hurt but by the afternoon, Cheeky Girl was looking for a scratch again. This year’s calves were spared this discomfort as naturally polled sires became available.
When Cheeky Girl was big and strong enough, we weaned her from her mother’s milk, vaccinated her against seven deadly diseases and let her join a mob of about 40 of her peers in a paddock by the forest. Aside from clover and rye, she was fed silage and high protein pellets to keep her growing and healthy. She was vaccinated and drenched regularly to prevent parasite attacks that might otherwise debilitate a young growing cow.
At 15 months, our four Jersey bulls began to flirt with Cheeky Girl and her peers. We only let the youngsters run with this small breed of bulls so there is less risk of complications. When her own calf was born in the carefully monitored “springer’s paddock” by the dairy, Cheeky Girl became a fully fledged member of the milking herd for the first time. She is fed grain in the dairy, lives her entire life roaming the paddocks with her herd mates and enjoys added silage or hay when the pasture’s growth slows in summer and winter.
Cheeky Girl makes about 25 litres of milk per day grazing free-range in the paddocks. She hasn’t fallen ill with mastitis or lameness but, if she does one day, help will be swift and attentive. Like her mother, Cheeky Girl can look forward to a long and healthy life – perhaps staying in the herd until the ripe old age of 14 or 15. And when she’s no longer able to cope with cold winters or becomes seriously ill, we will make sure she suffers as little as possible. We cannot stop the cycle of life from turning but we can do our best to look after our animals the whole way through.