The Mother-Calf Bond

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The mother-child bond in humans is considered precious and if it is violated, we raise a hue and cry. Most of us have seen or read about it somewhere and yet we humans violate the sacred bond between cows/buffaloes and their calves in dairy farms. Calves born to cows/buffaloes in dairy farms are soon separated from the mothers so that we can take the milk the mothers produce. We do it with impunity because we have made it legal to do so. When mom and baby are separated soon after birth, it prevents the cow or buffalo from expressing her natural maternal behaviour and the development of the cow-calf bond – a fundamental right that we deny mothers of a species we have domesticated for our greed. The dairy industry desecrates this bond and markets a mother’s suffering with images of happy cows on packaging manipulating us into believing there is no cruelty in milk. In most Indian dairies, especially ones that have only one to three cows/buffaloes, the farmers tie the babies near the mothers yet not near enough for them to suckle every time they are hungry. In ignorance, most people happily use the misery and anguish of these mommies and infants in their tea, coffee, ice-cream, mithais, curd rice, gulab jamuns, rasgollas, sandwiches, pizzas and so many other items.

Image credit: Lisa Corson

Are most consumers unaware about the attachment between these cows and their calves? Probably. But what about the dairy industry? That can’t be possible because in a cruel and twisted way it’s the dairy industry – the industry that exploits them – that has studied and knows about it the most and uses the information to extract the last drop of milk they can. The people running the industry absolutely know that “the purpose of cow milk, as in other mammals, is to feed calves during the early stages of life,” and that humans have domesticated cows with the sole objective of taking away the milk – milk that was meant to nourish a calf – for human consumption.

Image credit: Peta

A mother cow if left in nature, will go away from the herd she belongs to in order to have her child and she will lick and clean the baby and nuzzle it immediately after birth. It is not only the physical presence of her baby but also the sound of the baby and the scent she picks up from him/her that helps create the bond, and it begins with the first lick after birth. And even as little as five minutes of contact directly after her giving birth may be enough to establish the mother-baby bond. How does this happen? The calf gives out pheromones (substances which are secreted to the outside by the calf) that mom picks up with her vomeronasal organ – an organ within the main nasal chamber and that contains sensory cells that detect heavy moisture-borne odour particles. The same happens with the calf receiving the pheromones his/her mom gives out. The licking and nuzzling are what help mom and baby recognize one another. It’s the activating of the senses of sound, smell and touch in both. It is these pheromones that also help mom nurse her young calf when they join back in the herd soon after the birthing. Using this information, farmers are taught to tie the calf near the cow’s head during milking to stimulate all these senses, but even keeping the calf far away but in sight and where the mother can hear her are sufficient to make her let down milk. These caring mommas are also known to take care of other orphan calves or calves of other cows even before their own baby is born because the mothering instinct in them is so strong. And the bond only intensifies the more often the calf suckles her, and over time they become almost inseparable living together for several years even after the calf weans off his/her mother’s milk. The mom continues to express her maternal bonding through licking, nursing, her attentiveness and staying close to the calf, and by protecting her baby from potential threats. But all these experiences are denied to her by the exploitative dairy industry. Mother cows who nurse their calves will do much more to reunite with their baby if they are separated. It is this sacred mother-child bond that the dairy industry violates.


Image credit: Anipixels

Colostrum is the first thick milk that the cow/buffalo produces, and it is vital for calves who are yet incapable of ruminating. This is because small amounts of bacteria get into the fetus while it is still in the womb and the newborn calf needs the antibody rich colostrum to defend against various pathogens and viruses. Yet, the dairy industry takes this important secretion and sells it to humans as a delicacy. Is it any wonder that farmers proclaim that newborn calves die in their farms? Moreover, instead of allowing the calf to drink his/her mother’s milk, the farmer is encouraged to use milk replacers which contain blood plasma, egg protein, soya protein concentrates and soya protein isolates even though these alternative sources can result in diarrhoea. Needless to say the dairy industry kills off the male calves as they are not going to be of any use once they grow up.

Calf Feeding for Human Greed

The dairy industry has studied all the digestive processes in order to exploit these calves more efficiently. They have therefore also started using higher protein milk replacers and calves may consume more than ten litres of this milk, an amount that the calf would also normally consume if allowed to suckle throughout the day if she is left free with the mother. But this processed milk is fed to the calves only so they can take the milk his/her mother has produced for him/her while they hasten the growth of the calf to add her to the exploitative system as a milking machine. They also start feeding her solid food in the form of grain, instead of the grass she would have preferred in nature, much earlier, and the weaning process can be very stressful because of the entire interference of human ‘intelligence’. And this human interference in her feeding continues into her growing life till she is forcefully made a mother and is part of the milk extracting system.

Gaumata ki Jai!

Image credit: Bangalore Mirror

In a land that professes to believes the cow to be ‘holy’ and calls her a ‘mother’, how did we end up doing such things to her? We have been so cleverly manipulated and brainwashed into calling dairy ‘vegetarian’ even though milk comes from an animal and is actually non-vegetarian. Despite milk and milk products being obtained with such cruelty, almost all vegetarians believe there is no cruelty or killing in dairy. But this is far from the truth. A few probing questions should help us understand the underbelly of the dairy industry. Why is it that we find only mommas who can no longer produce a profitable amount of milk, can no longer have babies, or are a monetary burden for the farmer in slaughterhouses? Why aren’t there any young milk producing cows there? Why is India one of the top beef exporting countries? Where do all the animals whose flesh is exported come from if no farmer in India raises cows/buffaloes for beef? The truth is that the Indian dairy industry kills over 1 lakh cows/buffaloes every single day and they all come from the dairy industry. Mother cows in states that have a ban on cow slaughter are transported cramped tightly in trucks and for days without food and water to those states where it is still legal to kill them. That’s the respect we give ‘gaumata’ in our Bharat. That’s how we treat our ‘holy’ cows and buffaloes who we don’t even deem fit to be called ‘aunt’. Who is responsible for this? Is it just the consumer who demand for milk responsible for this or can we hold farmers equally responsible? Can someone who professes to worship cows do this? How can we put a monetary price on the heads of these sentient beings as if they are objects? Isn’t that the lowest we can get while saying we respect them? These are some questions that we need to ask before we can bring ahimsa back to our land.

Where Are All The Male Babies?

A “Khal Bachha”
Image credit: Animal Equality

Apart from the anguish these mothers are subjected to and them being denied their fundamental right to exercise motherhood, it’s rare to see male calves or grown bulls in dairy farms regardless of the fact that cows/buffaloes are made pregnant every year and there’s a 50 per cent chance of the newborn baby being male. It should be eye-opening to ask the farmer where all the male calves have disappeared the next time you visit a dairy farm. Of course, the general response will probably be that they gave him to another farmer. The question is why would any farmer want a bull who is expensive to feed and look after? And if you visit the countryside, will you all these bulls that the dairy industry has gotten rid of? Why do we almost never see adult male cows or buffaloes being transported to slaughter or in slaughterhouses? The truth is that male calves, whether of cows or buffaloes are mostly either sold for ‘calf leather’ or starved to death within a few days of being born. Then their insides are emptied and filled with hay to make a ‘khal bachha’ which is then used at milking time to induce milk let down. A few farmers abandon male calves on the streets to fend for themselves where they mostly end up eating plastic and die a long drawn out painful death if they aren’t captured by unscrupulous men who take them to slaughter before they have a chance to grow up.

The Solution

Cows not only bond with their calves for several years, but each one also has amazing personality and social traits. They love physical contact with other cows, have best friends, love to play and spend time together bonding on an emotional level, and express their love by grooming one another. They are intelligent and can recognise not only other cows and animals of other species, but also recognise and bond with humans. Moreover, they show long-term memories and have distinct personalities just like humans do. If we wish for them to enjoy a life they deserve, we will need to look at life from their perspective.

Most consumers are horrified when they realise the truth about what we do to cows and buffaloes. If we want to aim for consistency between our attitudes or beliefs and our behaviours, both consumers and farmers will first of all need to accept the truth. Once we do that, we can start focusing on our actions and start making informed choices… because we do have a choice! We can think deeply about who we really are and what we stand for. If we truly believe that mother-child bonds are sacred, we can choose not to participate in the desecration of the relationship between them. We all have the power to be brutally honest, accept the wrongdoing and take a stand to be authentic. We can put our core values of compassion and justice where they belong: at the top and operate from there. With so many Indian recipes that are already free from animal products, it’s easy to eat food that’s ahimsak. In other words, stick to the roti, sabji, dal, chawal, kachumber, papad, chutney, achaar that we normally eat just minus the ghee and dahi. Need help? Indian Vegan Cookbook is a wonderful resource to make the transition as easy as it can get. Let’s come together to build a world where the lives of all beings are respected, and they can breathe freely without human profiteering.

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