11th January 2010
It is a fresh, cool Spring morning and as the sun rises, signalling a brand new day, a loving mother gently tends to her newborn. She carefully caresses him, protects him from harm and guides him to nurse from her. Already bonded from his time within the womb, the baby recognises his mother and trusts her tender guidance, and so he begins to suckle. His instinct tells him to draw in the essential life giving sustenance that only his mother’s milk can provide.
But no sooner does the warm sweet taste of nourishment fill his mouth than he is torn away. Strong arms wrap their way around his body and hoist him far away from the soft gentle teat that calls to him. His mother, try as she may, cannot dislodge her precious baby from the theif’s arms and she earns a cruel shout and rough, sharp hand on her side for her efforts. She cries out for her baby, knowing pain that only a mother can. She will cry for days and feel the pain of her loss for much longer. She will not forget the one who stole her baby away. And her baby cries for her; confused, scared and having lost the only security he had ever known.
But what kind of animal would take a baby away from his mother? What kind of animal would take away the one source of nourishment that baby needed to begin his life? What kind of animal would break one of the strongest and most precious bonds to exist upon our earth? We would- we, humans. We created the dairy industry and along with it, we created stories just like this one. We created the bobby calf, the life deemed so worthless that at market, it would only fetch a single bob. We created hell.
Being mammals, cows do not produce milk unless they are kept in a continual cycle of impregnation, gestation and birth. A number of female calves born will be kept to replenish their herd as they mature because, although cows can lead long and happy lives of up to 20 years, very few dairy cows are allowed to live past the age of seven, when the pressures of their unnatural life take their toll and they are deemed no longer commercially valuable to the industry. However, the majority of babies born are surplus to the needs of the dairy industry and around 1 million baby calves, just like our baby in this story, are slaughtered each year; the ‘bobby’ calves, many before they are even one week old.
Soon after his separation, this one in a million baby was to be loaded onto a large truck and transported to market where a lowly sum would be paid for his life. Unprotected by the Code of Practice, these babies can be left for up to 30 hours without being fed and some may not make it to market alive. But this small detail does not seem to matter; they are ‘dead meat’ anyway, set to become veal, the lining of their stomach set to become rennet, an ingredient of cheese. Frightened and bewildered, young babies are then unloaded into a market pen, the ramp leading toward it so long and intimidating that many cannot bring themselves to traverse it. Some, upon arrival, so weak that they simply lie down, fear and exhaustion winning out, disabling their legs and their spirit. One could mistake them for being dead, as they lie confused and dazed, awaiting the inevitable. With no ruling enforcing those in charge to provide nourishment for some time yet, these babies grow weaker and weaker by the minute.
But somebody was watching over this one in a million on the fateful day. That someone was filled with kindness and saw that this baby calf needed to be rescued lest he soon be taken from this world forever. And so, after some negotiation, a last minute reprieve was granted and this baby instead was loaded into a spacious van filled with soft straw, provided with essential nourishment and water and began his journey toward a future that was worth a whole lot more than a measly bob.
This one in a million became a name, not a number, and was christened Hansel. He shared his new life at the most peaceful and wondrous animal sanctuary, Edgar’s Mission, with another young calf named Gretel. Gretel had been even more fortunate to survive the odds stacked against a young cow such as herself, having been born with only three legs.
Having lived out their younger days, lovingly hand raised and bottle fed, Hansel and Gretel now reside together, living a life of luxury that they could have only ever dreamt of. Wide open spaces surround them and they will never see the inside of a dusty market pen, nor will they be handled by rough hands ever again. Instead, kind hands proffer much loved massages and trails of breadcrumbs lead them not to houses of gingerbread, but to lush green pastures where they happily graze their days away.
And so, it is a fresh, cool Spring morning and as the sun rises, signalling a brand new day, Hansel, one time bobby calf, one in a million, awakens to feel strong arms wrapping their way around his body yet again. But he does not flinch, nor does he feel any fear or trepidation. For these strong arms simply offer a warm embrace, telling him he is loved and welcoming him into another kind and wonderful new day. No longer a baby, this majestic creature steps out into the world, proof that the kindness of one can change a life. Proof that this life is worth a whole lot more than a single bob.
The Lowdown on Cows:
- Cows are very social animals. They form large herds and just like people, they will bond to some herd members while avoiding others.
- Just like humans, cows use their voice and facial expressions to communicate how they are feeling. They are emotional and sensitive creatures who form close and long lasting relationships.
- Again, just like humans, cows are curious and inquisitive, they baby sit for one another and they can even hold grudges!
- Recent research conducted at Cambridge University by Professor Donald Broom has shown that cows have ‘Eureka’ moments. Cows were challenged to open a door to get to food whilst their brainwaves were measured by an electroencephalograph. The results showed the cows clearly became excited when they discovered how to open the door. “Their brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air,” Professor Broom stated.
- Cows have exhibited further signs of intellect by being taught to unlatch a gate for food, to follow signs to different areas and to push a certain lever when hungry and a different one when thirsty!
- A dairy cow must have a calf in order to produce milk. After giving birth to a calf, she is soon impregnated again for the cycle to continue.
- Although a cow may live for up to 20 years, the lifespan of a dairy cow is only 7 years or even less as she is sent to slaughter when no longer ‘profitable’.
- A dairy calf is separated from its mother soon after birth so that her milk may be harvested for human consumption. If given the chance, a calf would suckle from its mother for several months, even up to a year.
- The mother-calf bond is particularly strong, and there are countless reports of mother cows who continue to frantically call and search for their babies after the calves have been taken away.
- If a calf is born female, there is a chance she may be used as a herd replacement animal. However all male calves and the majority of females are by products of the dairy industry and are sent to slaughter soon after birth. These calves have been dubbed ‘bobby calves’; seen as being worth ‘only a bob’ by the industry.
- Almost one million calves taken from their mothers by the dairy industry were slaughtered in Australia in 2010.
- Whilst a calf would normally suckle from its mother up to five times a day, Australian Standards and Guidelines allow a 5 day old calf to be left for up to 30 hours without food during transport to and within slaughterhouses.
Frances C. Flower and Daniel M. Weary, “Effects of Early Separation on the Dairy Cow and Calf: 2. Separation at 1 Day and 2 Weeks After Birth,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 70 (2001)
Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – Land transport of livestock, Edition One, December 2008
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