Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk
“Do you realise how unethical your family is?” a new colleague sneered as I was in my sixth hour of pouring beers for overly drunk men. “You purposely impregnate cows just so you can take their babies from them and steal their milk.”
Memories rushed through my mind as I gripped the beer tap, nearly snapping it in half. All of the Christmas mornings I sat waiting with my brothers for my parents so we could open our presents, because they were still feeding the calves. All of the family holidays we missed because my parents fired an employee for being too rough with our cows and they had to work overtime. All of the dinners we ate quietly around the table as we learned we could lose our home any day. The time mum begged my school to cut my fees, because we just couldn’t afford it.
No matter what, the cows have always come first.
Anger surged through my body, nearly shooting flames out of my ears. I was already fed up with getting asked if I would fuck the 50-year-old alcoholic at the bar by his egotistical mates, then someone who hardly knows me decides to take the time out of their day to tell me my family is unethical. Are you fucking kidding me?
Because we force cows to get pregnant so we can steal their babies and milk them dry. Because we don’t care if they’re hurt; we milk them anyway. Because we are greedy people who only care about the copious amount of dollars we are paid for all of the thousands of litres of milk we produce. Because farmers should think twice and only eat produce sourced from the beautiful depths of Planet Earth… by other farmers?
I began to pack down the bar so I could meet up with my friends.
“You purposely impregnate cows just so you can take their babies from them and steal their milk,” I heard her say again in my mind. My body started to shake.
Dairy cows, like pretty much every other animal on earth, like breeding. In fact, they don’t just like it: they’re genetically primed to reproduce. That’s just what animals do. Therefore, we run bulls in the herd… allowing the cows to get pregnant at their own leisure. So yes, we calve all year round – not because we are running some form of wild sex ring for cows in rural Australia, but because our cows are little floozies.
Once the cows have given birth, we retrieve their babies and take them to an open-air shed where we rear them away from the icy South Australian nights, allowing their mothers to return to work. No different to giving birth to an infant, and allowing a professional to care for your baby whilst you go back to work.
On average, dairy cows produce between 15 and 30 litres of milk per day, while the average calf only needs five litres per day. I can’t believe it either, that we relieve our cows of milk at dusk and dawn simply because they produce more milk than their calves needs. Wouldn’t they rather get mastitis? Wouldn’t they rather become immobile and die due to sickness? Surely not – that would be unethical, wouldn’t it?
“I’ve never questioned your values and I would never say something like that about your family,” I bluntly snapped back at my colleague as my gaze stabbed through her. Tears welled in my eyes, and of the regulars shouted over from the other side of the bar.
“Wouldn’t hurt to smile would it, Jessie?”
Cover by Jenny Hill; inset by the author