Cows in New Zealand are primarily dairy cattle such as Holstein-Friesian, Holstein-Friesian Jersey crossbreeds, or Jersey breeds, that are farmed for their milk, or beef cattle such as Aberdeen Angus and Hereford breeds, as well as Friesian bulls born to dairy cows, that are farmed for meat . Welfare concerns relate to the intensification of farming, and to housing and management, physical problems, painful husbandry procedures, and the welfare of calves.
The dairy industry also has substantial adverse impacts on New Zealand’s environment, and is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, which substantially contribute to climate change. Consumption of dairy products can also raise health concerns.
Like other mammals, a mother cow must give birth in order to produce milk. Calves are taken from their grieving mothers.
Cows would naturally live in small herds with a hierarchy, and have complex social interactions, including friendships. Each cow can recognise more than 100 members of their own herd, and relationships can be very important to them.
By mid 2016 New Zealand had 3.5 million beef cattle, 2.5 million of whom were located in the North island . The average beef cattle herd size on a beef and sheep farm has been estimated as 60–80 cattle.
As with the farming of several other species, dairy farming in particular has intensified over time. Improved genetics and nutrition have resulted in a 2–3% annual increase in milk production per cow in Western countries.
Whether cows are housed indoors, grazed outdoors or organically, serious welfare concerns are common.
Numerous physical problems cause pain and suffering for farmed cattle. In some cases, pain can be severe. These problems may also lead to premature death, when farmers choose to kill affected animals rather than spend money treating them, or because their productivity is reduced.
Several husbandry procedures routinely applied to cattle cause serious welfare concerns, because they are frequently painful, but are often performed without painkillers or anaesthetics, mainly to minimise costs.
In order to produce milk, cows must give birth to a calf each year. In the year ending 30 June 2016, 4.4 million dairy calves were born . Dairy calves are either slaughtered as ‘bobby calves’, raised for beef, or raised as dairy herd replacements.
Despite the disturbing level of animal welfare problems and documented animal abuse within the dairy industry, prosecution for neglect or abuse on farms is rare. The Ministry for Primary Industries considers prosecution to be a last resort, with ‘getting a farm back on track' being the normal priority.
Despite what the dairy industry says, the healthiest source of calcium is green leafy vegetables and legumes. Kiwis consume substantial amounts of dairy products, despite scientific evidence that questions their health benefits and points to potential health risks.
Cows and calves are not the only casualties of dairy farming. Our environment is severely impacted through compaction of land, pollution of waterways, and greenhouse gas emissions. This is only going to get worse as the national dairy herd increases in size. For the health of our environment, as well as the stability of our economy, we need to decrease our reliance on the dairy sector.
The effect on the New Zealand economy is often cited as a reason to continue with the dairy industry and its expansion. However, many academics and economists are starting to question our dependence on the dairy industry.
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