Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

On Veal Cows

I’m a slacking blogger of late, but for the 10 or so people who bother to read this blog, I thought I’d share something I learned today.

As animal rights activists, we end up learning a lot about the details of the practices of animal exploitation. There is a lot to know, and somehow we are required to be experts on a wide range of topics.

Terry and I were talking today about some of these details, and she mentioned something about veal cows that I didn’t know. I knew that male dairy cows are not seen outside of sanctuaries because they’re either killed at birth or allowed to live for 16 weeks before they’re killed for veal. I think we all know that. But a little detail that slipped by me, and I believe slips by most of us, is that it isn’t just the baby boys who are killed, it is the majority of the baby girls as well. Again, either at birth or for veal. I think it is a common misconception for us that it is only the baby males who are killed for veal.

It makes sense, once you think about it – it is all about numbers. The farmers have room for only a certain number of female cows, who have five or six years when they produce enough milk to satisfy the farmers, after which they’re sent to be turned into hamburgers. But during those five or six years they have a baby every year, for how else will they produce milk? Since only babies need to drink milk, mothers produce milk only as long as their offspring are babies. And so every year the farmers forcibly impregnate the cows they keep for milk. Yet only one “replacement” is needed by the farmer over the span of a dairy cow’s life, and so all of the rest of the babies will be killed at birth or at 16 weeks, regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl.

Perhaps this was more widely known than I think. I know for certain that I had it in my head that veal was specifically baby boy calves, so in case either of my readers were under the same misconception, well, now you know the truth. How important are these details? It is always hard to know, I suppose. Another interesting thing that Terry told me is that one of the details that seems to get to people when she is giving tours is that the babies are killed. Will that be universal? Again, it is hard to tell. The people who arrange to come to the sanctuary for tours might very well be a specific subset of the general population, more swayed by these heart-wrenching details.

But then, you never know quite who you’ll end up talking to when you’re leafleting or at the grocery store or wherever you are when you end up talking about these issues. And in case you’re talking to someone who you suspect would care about the baby cows, you’ll now be able to give them a more accurate picture. Assuming you’d been under the same misconception that I had been, that is.

Charlotte, for instance, was slated to be veal, but was lucky enough to be rescued instead.

charlotte at ps

9 responses to “On Veal Cows

  1. emily December 26, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    In the studies I have read only 1-5% of veal calves are female. I have always wondered about that as even if the cows are lasting only 2 years there should be more female calves in the system.

  2. Deb December 26, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I’ve never read any studies about it, so I’m not sure where they get their numbers, or if it is a universal trend that they are reporting. (I can’t imagine how it could happen naturally – maybe they manipulate the sperm they impregnate the cows with to skew things towards male babies?)

    Terry’s statements were from her experience (running a sanctuary means you interact with the farmers and learn their ways more than most of us ever would; I believe she was also an ag major in college), and I can say with certainty that two of the residents at PS are female holsteins that escaped a veal fate. A third might be (I’d have to ask Terry). There are two male cows who definitely would have been veal calves, and a third and fourth maybe. I still don’t remember all the stories off the top of my head, so I can’t say for certain on all of them, but as far as the numbers at PS, it makes the 1-5% seem unlikely, since these were chance rescues, and somewhere between 30-50% of the rescued veal calves at PS are female!

    If someone had the stomach to go to an auction, they might get a better feel for overall numbers as well.

  3. emily December 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I just reviewed a few dozen papers describing research done directly on veal famrs in the US and Canada, that is where my figures came from. It me be that because females have poorer feed conversion they go for Bob veal and are killed shortly after birth. Supply outstrips demand when it comes to calves.

  4. Deb December 27, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    “Poorer feed conversion” in real speak being they grow more slowly? They definitely are smaller when full grown, so that would make sense.

    Regardless of the specific percentages, veal is not specific to babies of only one sex, and both sexes might also be killed at birth. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that in both cases it was only the boys who were killed either immediately or at 16 weeks.

    And not that I think it is any better for the females raised for their milk. Because it isn’t any better for them, not at all. These are just details that sometimes it seems important to know.

  5. emily December 28, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I think everyone needs to know what exactly is involved in making the products they use. They can’t oppose, or support it, rationally otherwise. But it is almost impossible to find accessible, accurate, representative accounts.

  6. girl least likely to January 2, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    very interesting; i have been spouting the “baby boys” line for 3 years now. thanks for the information! it definitely makes sense, but like you, i guess i just never thought about it before.

  7. Deb January 13, 2008 at 11:39 am

    gllt – I think we’re pretty much all in the same boat. I’ve talked to other animal advocates about this topic, and we’re all surprised, but as you said, it does make sense once we think about it!

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  9. Kristen August 13, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    True you never hear about the female baby cows that are killed, just the male ones. But looking at the dairy industry it makes sense – I just assumed before that they kept all the females to turn into milk machines.

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