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Separation anxiety July 2, 2012

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
Tags: , , , , ,

As a new mom, I’ve quickly learned what “separation anxiety” means. It means that as soon as I leave the room, my daughter starts bawling and saying “mommy, mommy, mommy.” For young calves, though, separation anxiety is of a whole other order. At most beef cattle ranches, calves follow their moms around for six months, give or take. When ranchers eventually force them to split up, pulling the calves and moms into herds of their own, the bellowing and whining on both sides of the fence are deafening, and last for a few hours to a few days, depending on how much they miss each other.

Dairy farmers manage the separation of mom and calf quite differently from cattle ranchers. Dairy calves, unlike beef calves, can’t possibly be allowed to nurse for anything like a normal length of time. The whole point of a dairy farm is to sell the milk that cows produce, and every drop of milk that goes into a calf’s mouth is a drop not sold. All dairies, from the biggest conventional CAFOs to the smallest family farms, separate calves from their moms very young, and when I say very young, I mean usually within the first twenty-four hours after birth. However, all the research that I’ve seen on this topic, including that published by proponents of animal welfare like Bernard Rollin, states that early separation is actually much less stressful than letting them stay together longer, only to split them up after they’ve bonded. Pairs that are split within the first day of the calf’s life don’t usually show much sign of caring.

But isn’t there something shameful and underhanded about taking advantage of our knowledge that moms haven’t yet bonded to their calves in the first hours after birth to snatch their babies away “before they know any better”? Or is this just sentimentalism on my part?



1. sustainablefarminginwi - August 30, 2012

I agree with you that dairy cows are often taken away from their mothers WAY to soon, but not all dairy cows are taken so soon. My neighbor lets them stay much longer, but I understand, he is not the norm. A neat device I just learned about is something like this http://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?pgguid=30e07afe-7b6a-11d5-a192-00b0d0204ae5 it allows the calf to stay with mom, but it can’t nurse. It is denied the milk, but does not need to go through the stress of losing mom. I would like to see them used more. They make them for sheep, but since I don’t milk my sheep I don’t need to use them.

Angelique - August 31, 2012

Cool, thanks for the info.

sustainablefarminginwi - September 4, 2012


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