If you have ever driven through the center of Florida, you’ve probably seen cows grazing or resting under shade trees. These cows were almost certainly being raised for beef. Although the horrible final destination for dairy cows is the same as with beef cattle—the slaughterhouse—dairy cows in Florida spend much of their lives on concrete, confined in overcrowded and disease-ridden farms.

Dairy Production in Florida
Barbara V. Perez / Orlando SentinelDairy farming is one of Florida’s biggest animal industries, second only to the beef cattle industry in dollar value. For decades, the number of dairy farms in Florida has been in decline, while the size of herds on individual farms has increased dramatically. Today, most dairy farms in Florida have between 500 and 1000 cows, and several huge mega-dairies have over 3000 cows!

The lives of dairy cows are a bleak cycle of pregnancy, birth and milking to provide one thing—milk for human consumption.

The heat and humidity of Florida’s climate makes life difficult for dairy cows. Florida’s hot and wet conditions also increase health problems such as mastitis, a common but serious bacterial infection of the mammary gland.

In an attempt to fight the heat, and to better control waste, farms confine cows in warehouse-sized buildings that have giant fans running 24 hours a day. But confining cows creates other problems. As a result of standing on concrete, and from lack of exercise, dairy cows commonly suffer from painful feet or leg injuries. Lameness is one of the most frequent reasons that dairy farmers kill cows.

The Short, Sad Life of a Dairy Cow
Like other mammals, cows have to give birth in order to produce milk. Immediately after giving birth, the dairy cow’s calf is forcibly taken from her and fed artificially.

Male calves are of little value to the dairy industry, so dairy farmers sell them to the notoriously cruel veal industry (there would be no veal without the dairy industry!), or just abandon them at the farm. In 2000, workers at a dairy farm in Okeechobee were caught on film dumping day-old calves in a pit, and shooting them with a pistol.

Young female calves are moved into tiny, individual pens where they spend the first weeks of their lives, cut off almost completely from contact with other cows. A strip of fabric serves as shade. Farmers claim that they must isolate calves to protect them from infectious disease, noxious ammonia and other threats to young animals that are common in modern dairy farms.

Before a calf leaves the pen, she will be dehorned, a painful and stressful mutilation, usually conducted without anesthesia (farmers explain that dehorning reduces injuries in the crowded dairy). Before the calf turns two, she will be artificially inseminated and begin her “productive life.” Cows are milked twice, even three times per day, and are pushed to produce as much as 20,000 lbs of milk per year!

After a few short years, a cow’s milk production declines and she is sold for slaughter. Cows are also killed if they have difficulty getting pregnant, or due to chronic mastitis or lameness, anything that makes her no longer profitable. A cow’s natural lifespan is 25 years or more.

 
 

The Environment
The amount of wastewater and manure produced on dairy farms is astounding, and inevitably pollutes rivers, lakes and groundwater.

On dairy farms, enormous quantities of water are used to clean the animals and milking equipment, in operating sprinklers to cool animals, and in flushing manure out of barns—in addition to the water cow’s drink. A study by the University of Florida estimated that 100 cows can produce over 100,000 gallons of wastewater each week!
(photo: at a farm visited by ARFF, wastewater is pumped into a huge lagoon.)

It is not surprising that dairies are one of Florida’s most significant sources of water pollution. (The ammonia and other gases from manure can also contribute to air pollution.)

 
 

Strong Bones?
Our bodies need the mineral calcium to build and maintain bones and teeth. But cow's milk is not the best or a necessary source. Plant foods can provide all the calcium and other nutrients we need. The most healthful calcium sources are fortified orange juice or non-dairy milks, beans, instant oatmeal, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables such as collards or kale.

Cow's milk is high in calories, fat and cholesterol, and frequently contains antibiotics, hormones and other drug residues. Millions of Americans are dairy (lactose) intolerant.

Beyond Dairy.
The only beings suited to consume cow’s milk are infant cows.

ARFF recommends that people wishing to reduce animal suffering minimize or, better yet, eliminate animal products from their diet. Contact ARFF for ideas on how to make the change to a healthier, animal-free lifestyle.

Please download and distribute our handout (PDF file).

 
 
ARFF investigation reveals animal neglect, unsafe conditions at UF dairy farm

In November 2006, ARFF was contacted by a former employee of the University of Florida’s Dairy Research Unit near Gainesville who reported serious problems at the facility. An ARFF volunteer visited the facility to investigate and confirmed several of the allegations of mismanagement and neglect.

The allegations included: (1) cows becoming sick after eating screws and wire left behind by maintenance crews, plastic gloves used in breeding and other improperly disposed garbage; (2) cows suffering broken bones or other life-ending injuries after slipping on poorly maintained surfaces; (3) an injured or sick cow improperly euthanized by several gunshots to the head; (4) cows not treated at first sign of illness or injury, especially when the illness did not immediately affect milk production; (5) animal cruelty. ARFF learned of an incident in which an employee at the facility whipped an uncooperative cow with his belt.

ARFF filed a complaint with the University of Florida urging them to investigate. The university responded and admitted that problems do exist. Hopefully, ARFF’s complaint and an article that followed in a local newspaper will lead to improvements at the dairy farm.

Although the allegations and the conditions ARFF documented at the farm were shocking, they are not uncommon in Florida dairy farms. Even the best dairy farm can’t avoid abuses that are inherent to the industry, such as female calves forcibly taken from their mothers shortly after birth, and males calves cruelly disposed of. After a few short years, when a cow’s milk production declines, all dairy cows are sold for slaughter.

The best way to help end the suffering of cows in the dairy industry is to eliminate dairy and all animal products from your diet.

The former university employee told ARFF that she had worked at the facility for two years, and in that time she watched cows that she had fallen in love with deteriorate before her eyes. Because of her experience, she has stopped drinking millk.

 

 

 
 

1431 N. Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304 (954) 727-ARFF