Dairy cows are killed

Why calves have to die for milk

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A small calf Image: egrego2, flickr.com (arr.) Image title: Jersey Calf, CC-BY

For most people there is no question that animals die for meat. But one hears again and again that animals also have to die for milk, namely the calves. Strictly speaking, milk would not be vegetarian either. We got to the bottom of the matter.

Every schoolchild knows that cows are milked to produce milk. Anyone who has ever spent their vacation on the farm knows that cows are usually milked in the morning and in the evening.

Their udders are usually full, and milk sometimes even drips from their teats when the cows leisurely walk into the milking parlor. And you have certainly already seen that the cows continue to live normally after milking. So why should animals die for milk?

Calves in milk production: Born to die.

The death of calves for milk production is sadly a sad fact. About half of the people in Germany believe that cows always “give” milk. Some even fear that the udders would burst if the milk was not removed from them.


Could milking help the cows so that they are not in pain? So does milk production only serve to extract milk that is already there? The cow as an eternal fountain of milk?

Calf: Not a long life expectancy Image: K / Vegpool

Like all mammals, cows do not produce milk until they have offspring. Without calves, the cows udders are limp and empty (even human mothers do not “give” milk for life). The natural purpose of cow's milk is to feed the calf for the first few weeks and months.


For this reason, the composition of the milk also changes over time - it is perfectly tailored to the needs of the calf. But where are all the calves that you never see?

Many calves end up in the fattening area

Most calves are killed shortly after birth. Some are fattened and processed into "veal". They are often deliberately malnourished with a mixed milk substitute so that anemia develops and their meat remains light. Only a few animals are later used as “dairy cows” themselves.

There are reports of farmers killing young calves as soon as they are born. The fattening would simply cost more than could be obtained by selling the meat. Such a procedure is illegal in Germany, but it again shows clearly that the calves are actually only born (and killed) because of the milk.

Every year the dairy cows are fertilized again so that the milk flow does not decrease (because a calf would eventually start to eat solid food as well). As with humans, pregnancy lasts nine months. In dairy cow husbandry, the animals are almost always pregnant.


The high performance expectations as well as the hardships of childbirth and the almost permanent pregnancy reduce the life expectancy of dairy cows to around 4-6 years. The natural life expectancy of cattle is over 20 years.

So is milk even vegetarian?

Even if milking does not kill cows, milk production is inevitably linked to the killing of animals. It is economically and practically impossible for dairy farmers to keep and care for all of the calves. Especially since calves drink exactly the product the farmer wants to sell: milk.

For many people, products are vegetarian if no animals have been consciously killed for them. In fact, milk could be considered non-vegetarian. If you do not want animals to be deliberately killed for their own nutrition, you should therefore refrain from milk.

In the classic usage of the word, “vegetarian” stands for products that are not out dead animals are generated. From an ethical point of view, however, this distinction is irrelevant. The calves die for the milk. The subsequent sale of the veal only makes this method even more economical.

Many a milk consumer has already considered that it should theoretically be possible to only use the “excess” milk. Such thought games have the function of glossing over milk consumption - even if the milk actually consumed does not come from such conditions.


Fortunately, it is not difficult to do without cow's milk - because there is now a large selection of plant-based drinks made from soy, oats, spelled, coconut or nuts that no calf has to die for.

By the way: animals also have to die for many other animal products. What many consumers do not know: Unfortunately, chicks and hens also die for eggs. So there are good reasons to go vegan today.

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Author: Kilian Thirty