Cows are amazing

Cows are wonderfully curious and sensitive beings who would naturally live in small herds and develop a social hierarchy. Each cow can recognise more than 100 members of their herd and are most content when they are together. Cows also form strong bonds with humans and can be as affectionate as dogs. Sadly, these sweet, peaceful beings are exploited in many ways, right here in Aotearoa. 

The dairy industry

Nearly 5 million mother cows in New Zealand are made to endure a cycle of pregnancy, birth, separation and milking so that the dairy industry can sell her milk for human consumption. Every year, around 4 million calves are separated from their mothers soon after birth. Female calves will go on to replace their mothers in the milking shed, and up to 2 million male calves (known as ‘bobby calves’) are simply killed and disposed of, considered ‘waste products’ of the dairy industry. Investigations in 2015 and 2016 exposed the appalling treatment of New Zealand’s calves, leaving many caring Kiwis shocked and wanting to take action.

Live export by sea

Many of the cows selected for live export are taken from green pastures in New Zealand. They travel across the Pacific Ocean where they can lose their footing in rough seas. In 2021, New Zealand shipped a record high of over 130,000 cows to China. During the journey, cows are confined in small, crowded pens where they are prone to heat stress and injury. Some cows may be shipped while pregnant. Once the journey is over, they are often taken to concrete intensive farms and used for milking or breeding for the rest of their lives. When cows leave our shores, they leave behind the welfare regulations that once protected them in New Zealand.

Cows raised for meat

Cows raised for beef may be kept in cramped and unnatural feedlots to be fattened for slaughter. Over 4.7 million cows were killed for human consumption in 2021 in New Zealand.

Calves used to produce veal are killed while they are still babies at a few months old. Since 2017, hundreds of farms have been infected with the Mycoplasma bovis disease which causes painful lameness, mastitis, and late-term abortion for cows. The Ministry for Primary Industries have struggled to contain the outbreak, leading to a devastating loss of life of over 170,000 cows and costing more than $200 million in compensation paid to farmers.


Gentle natured cows are openly bullied and abused in rodeo arenas. Steers and bulls are wrestled, ridden and tormented, with some even losing their lives for the entertainment of a small minority. Baby calves as young as three months old are still being chased and choked in calf-roping events. Cows that are forced to perform at rodeos experience fear, anxiety and stress, but to the people organising these events its ‘just for fun.’ SAFE is currently holding the Government to account via court proceedings for allowing this abuse to continue.

Intensive winter grazing

Cows kept in intensive winter grazing systems have no protection from the weather ‒ they are forced to live and often give birth in wet, muddy paddocks, exposed to the elements. Cows left in muddy paddocks can struggle to access clean drinking water and adequate feed, causing thirst, hunger and distress. Intensive winter grazing not only harms animals but degrades the soil until it can no longer support life or prevent pollution from entering our waterways.

Inadequate enforcement

Despite the disturbing level of animal welfare problems and documented animal cruelty, prosecution for neglect or abuse on farms is rare. With the Ministry for Primary Industries prosecuting less than 1% of cruelty cases, they consider prosecution to be a last resort, with ‘getting the farm back on track’ as the usual approach. This is why SAFE have been leading the call for a Commissioner for Animals to give cows a voice and ensure their rights are being upheld in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Solutions are already here

The market for plant-based foods is rapidly growing and now your food choices can align with your values. Protein, iron and calcium are abundant in plants, and you can nourish your body without harming animals. From burger patties and sausages to cheese and ice cream, meat and dairy alternatives are not only delicious, they save lives. Need help getting started? We’ve got you covered.

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Moving away from dairy is a choice that benefits animals, our planet and our health. There’s never been a better time to go dairy-free. Whether you’re looking for tips on the best plant-based cheese or ice cream or on the lookout for new dairy-free recipe ideas, we’ve got you covered!

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.