Category: Commentary

Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry

Animal activists often decry the conditions under which veal calves are raised, calling upon conscientious consumers to forgo the consumption of veal. What many people don’t realize, is that simply not eating veal is inadequate as a means of protest. In order to have a real effect on the veal calf situation, consumers must stop buying all dairy products.

In order to produce milk, a dairy cow must give birth. Unlike beef calves, which produce a greater return if raised to full size, the bulk of dairy calves do not possess the potential of greater value. They are superfluous. Their primary purpose is to cause their mothers, dairy cows, to produce milk.

The young cow, or heifer, has her first calf when she is two years old. Her calf is taken away, usually within 12-24 hours of birth, and the cow is milked to capacity. She produces approximately ten times the amount of milk necessary to nourish her calf. She comes into heat about three weeks later, and every three weeks after that. She is inseminated at the time of her second or third heat, and is milked for about 10 months until she goes “dry”. The cow then has a rest until the next calf is born; total gestation is about the same length as for humans, 9 months. The production cycle repeats every year as long as the cow remains a “profitable unit”, approximately 5 years. At the end of her profitable productive life, the dairy cow is sold to be slaughtered, usually for hamburger.

In a herd that is not expanding, only 20% of the cows need to be replaced each year, so a certain number of heifer calves are kept as replacement heifers. One bull can inseminate several cows; if a farm relies on artifical insemination, no bull calves need to be kept at all.

Therefore, in addition to producing 7,500 gallons or more of milk in her lifetime, a dairy cow will produce around four veal calves. Only by reducing the demand for dairy products can consumers have any real effect on the production of superfluous veal calves.

A final note: as an enthusiastic and frequent consumer of both milk products and veal, it matters not to me whether a person choses to eat dairy and/or veal. My primary concern is to provide the facts and let people make up their own minds.

© 2001-2006, originally published May 13, 2001