Dairy cows are of special interest to our goal of ending the suffering of animals at the fair for three reasons. First, there are numerous dairy-related events at the fair involving the harming of cows, including the Dairy and Moo Booth and the Miracle of Birth Center (see below). Second, consuming dairy products harms human health. And third, the breeding and farming of cows is harming our planet.
At the MN State Fair’s Dairy and Moo Booth, the dairy industry wants you to know all about “the wonderful world of cows” – except for the parts that aren’t so wonderful. Consider these realities when you see dairy cows at the fair:
Cows, like humans and all mammals, need to give birth to produce milk. Their gestation, like humans, is nine months. They are forcibly impregnated every 12 months. Calves are taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth since the milk the mother has produced for her baby will be sold for human consumption. This breaking of family bonds produces grief reactions in both mother and calf. Other natural behaviors that are denied to many farmed cows include grazing, mating, and forming a social structure.
Dairy cows and calves are routinely mutilated (dehorning, tail docking, castration, ear notching) while fully conscious and without anesthetics or pain relief.
Because male calves don’t produce milk, they aren’t useful to the dairy industry. Some are used for their semen or are castrated and used for their flesh (beef). Most, however, are intensively confined to limit movement and kept chronically anemic before being killed for veal at four to six months of age. Many die even younger from stress, disease, or heartbreak. And some are simply left to die after birth, alone, on the ground.
Cows produce a lot of waste and typically live confined lives surrounded by, and covered in, manure and urine. Most cows in the dairy industry are raised on barren dirt feedlots or in free stall barns. The bedding they rest on is often made up of dried manure.
They are first shot in the head with a bolt gun, and then, having had their throat slit, they are hung upside down to bleed to death. Many are still conscious during this process.
Keep in mind that while animals raised as free-range, cage-free, or organic may have a bit more access to the outdoors, they all endure the same painful body disfigurements, unregulated trips to the slaughterhouse, and inhumane slaughter practices.
One of the troublesome events in the Dairy and Moo Booth is the Agrilympics Celebrity Milking Contest (including hand milking by the public) wherein cows are forced to hold milk in their overfull, unnaturally large udders for hours. One can imagine how painful this is. Because of selective breeding and the use of hormones, today’s dairy cows produce 10 to 15 times the volume of milk their ancestors did.
The Miracle of Birth Center (MOBC) at the MN State Fair is especially problematic. Animals forcibly impregnated to deliver well-timed babies is a tradition at the fair because forcing animals to become pregnant and deliver babies is at the heart of how animal agriculture works.
During the fair, approximately 200 newborn calves, lambs, and piglets are born at the MOBC for the entertainment of fairgoers. Pregnant mothers in labor are put on display so humans can watch them give birth. This takes place in a setting that is loud and noisy, unfamiliar, unsanitary, and very stressful. Often these are dairy cows who will have their babies removed from them immediately so their milk can be sold for human consumption. All the newborns in the MOBC, regardless of species, will be removed from their mothers soon after birth to be handled by countless strangers – adults and children alike.
Fortunately, the MOBC will not feature a fistulated cow at the 2022 fair as in past years. A fistulated cow refers to a cow who has been surgically fitted with a cannula. A cannula acts as a porthole-like device that allows access to the rumen (the first stomach) of a cow. The industry claims this practice allows scientists to study the digestive system of cows to benefit other cows, but in fact the research is primarily used to determine the most inexpensive way to feed the herd that will keep them alive until slaughter.
According to a spokesperson for the MN Veterinary Medical Association, “We had brought one [fistulated cow] to the fair for a demonstration in the first or second year of the fair, but it was thought to be an inappropriate demonstration for the masses of people who attend.” Or possibly because too many fairgoers complained about the use of an animal this way.
When sanctuaries rescue dairy cows, they report the cows are typically scared and distrusting of humans at first. And no wonder. Some rescued cows have run from slaughterhouses or jumped from transport trucks on the way to the slaughterhouse or auction. Cows understand what is happening to them and try to escape. Rescued dairy cows especially love being around rescued calves because they’ve had their babies taken from them repeatedly.