In order to obtain milk from a cow, a calf needs to be born. On dairy farms these calves are removed from their mother immediately after birth and put in a small wooden pen or in an igloo. Thus the milk we buy in supermarkets is produced by cows who have never been given an opportunity to take care of their calf. The calves are fed with powdered milk and drink out of a bucket. Powdered milk is cheaper than real milk.
In the Netherlands 30 farmers decided to change this habit. They leave newborn calves with their mother, the way nature meant it to be. This implies that the farmer has to share the milk with the calf, but the reward is that both cow and calf are happier and healthier. Calves fed by their mothers do not suffer from diarrhea half as much as calves that have been separated from their mothers, because suckling has a positive effect on the esophagus-guiding-reflex. This reflex makes the milk take the correct path into the right stomach, where the milk is properly digested. The esophagus reflex doesn’t function well in calves that drink from a bucket, and thus develop diarrhea. Moreover the brain produces soothing and painkilling hormones when cows and calve spend time with each other suckling, grooming and resting. Calves that get the opportunity to regularly drink from the mothers´ udder are less prone to illnesses, they drink and grow better. They also show better social behaviour and are emotionally more balanced.
Cows also benefit from taking care of their calves. They do not suffer from udder infections as frequently because the calf empties the udder of all milk. They also do not develop womb infections easily, because suckling causes the production of oxytocine, a chemical that cleans the womb and makes it contract.
Unfortunately the milk produced by the 30 farmers is thrown into the same container that holds the milk of their 18.000 colleagues that do take away the calves from their mothers. Even organic milk and milk from Demeter is often produced by dairy farms that separate cow and calf. Since the winter of 2015 Eyes on Animals has been trying to get supermarkets and dairy companies to make a label for milk produced by farmers who leave the calves with their mothers, so customers can be aware of what they buy. Many phone calls were made and many letters sent. Sadly enough no supermarket or restaurant up until now has taken up the courage to take on this initiative. We won´t give up and hope to report good news soon, keep checking our website for updates.