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While some meat-eaters may not want to admit it (or hear about it), it is largely understood that the process that brings beef to our supermarkets involves harming cowsThere are plenty of people who are not vegetarian who understand why someone might not want to eat cows: after all, they are sentient beings who deserve a happy life as much as we do. 

Many of us, however, continue to consume dairy believing that the cows aren’t killed for milk or cheese, so it must be okay. I myself once believed this myth, thinking that if the animal doesn’t have to die to “give” milk, what could possibly be the issue.

The truth is dairy cows lead horrible lives, filled with grief, pain and suffering.  Not only does the dairy industry fuel the veal industry, but the dairy cow herself is ultimately slaughtered as well. With all this in mind, we have to ask ourselves, “Is there more cruelty in a glass of milk or a pound of beef?”

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

The Life of a “Beef” Cow



Cows raised for beef are separated from their mothers at a young age, though not as soon as dairy cows and veal calves. According the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, “the major priority in beef production is to produce as many calves as possible.”

This means calves are weaned around the age of seven to eight months, which gives the mother cow time to “regain condition after weaning.”

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals


While cows can live up to 25 years, cows raised for beef are generally slaughtered between one and three years of age.

For the first six months of the beef cow’s life, he (or she) spends his time in the pasture. According to the ASPCA, cows are the only factory farmed animal who still spend some time outdoors. After this period of six months (sometimes cows get up to a year), the cow is then moved to a feedlot with hundreds or thousands of other cows. Here their diet changes to one of mostly grain, which can cause digestive issues, pain and even death. The beef steer/cow will stay here until they reach slaughter weight.

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals


With the exception of breeding cows, most cows destined to become beef are not bred, so they are spared the pain of losing their children.


There are many common industry practices that factory farms use that would be considered animal abuse if carried out on a domestic animals. Here are a few cows raised for beef are subjected to.

Male calves are castrated at a young age, “to improve meat quality.” Some of the methods used to castrate them include surgically removing testicles with a scalpel, “crushing spermatic cords with a clamp, and constricting blood flow to the scrotum until testicles die and fall off.” Regardless of the method used, pain relief is rarely provided and the steer is in pain for several days.

In addition to castration, cows are subjected to branding. The branding iron is 950 degrees Fahrenheit and pressed against the cows skin for several seconds while he is held to the ground. Painkillers are not provided during this procedure either.

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Wikimedia Commons


After about one year of life, anywhere up to three years, the cow can be sent to slaughter. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires that livestock be rendered insensible to pain before they are shackled and their throats are slit. “Acceptable” methods for rendering the animal unconscious include “forcefully striking the animal on the forehead with a bolt gun or properly placing electrical shocks.” Sadly, many undercover investigations show that this requirement is often overlooked as many cows are still conscious when killed.

The Life of a Dairy Cow



When a dairy cow is born, she is taken from her mother within 24 hours, if not immediately. The primary reason she does not stay with her mother is so that she does not drink up all the farmer’s profit (e.g. her mother’s milk). That milk is for humans, after all, and if left to her own devices, she’d suck it all down.

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/ We Animals


Just like beef cows, dairy cows naturally would live about 18 to 22 years, though there are plenty who live well into their twenties. While a beef cow’s life is cut short around four months, a dairy cow’s life ends around five years of age.


In order to “give milk,” a dairy cow must be artificially inseminated, because just like humans, she will not produce milk if there isn’t a baby to feed. While many say that cows only need to be pregnant once, the fact remains that in modern factory farming they are inseminated every year in order to keep milk production as high as possible, not to mention the industry also profits from their babies .

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals


Also like humans, the gestation period of a dairy cow is nine months. She is milked throughout most of her pregnancy and when she gives birth, her baby will be taken from her, just as she was taken from her own mother.If her calf is a boy, he will be chained to a crate for a maximum of 16 weeks before being slaughtered for veal. If her calf is a girl, she will become a dairy cow and the cycle will continue.

After her baby is taken from her, the dairy cow is hooked up to machines for milking. According to the ASPCA, the average “dairy cows each produce about 100 pounds of milk per day — 10 times more than cows living just a few decades ago. This is due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets and being bred selectively for massive milk production.”

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Cows are maternal creatures. They will spend hours after their baby is born licking and tending to them, if given the chance. When their babies are pulled, often dragged away from them, they often bellow for days.

One cruel practice that many dairy cow face is having their tail surgically removed without painkillers. It’s believed that doing so keeps the udder clean, but this myth has been disproven.

Cows are also dehorned, a process in which the farmer will cut or burned off the horns. Again, no painkillers are provided.


Many avoid beef because the animal has to be slaughtered, but continue to drink milk because we believe it to be a benign product. It’s true that a dairy cow doesn’t have to be killed to produce milk, but she doesn’t exactly go to a retirement community at the end of her production period. After about five years, a cow’s milk supply begins to dwindle and she is no longer as profitable as her younger peers. So what does a farmer do? He or she slaughters her. Yes, a dairy cow’s life ends in slaughter, just as the beef cow’s does.

Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

So in the end, the dairy cow is slaughtered too. Given how much longer the dairy cow lives, and that cows raised for beef do not have their babies stolen from them every year: it would seem, in fact, there is more cruelty in a glass of milk. That is not to say the suffering of beef cows is insignificant, we now understand the pain endured in their lives. However, it’s time attention is also paid to the plight of the dairy cow. She too is suffering and we have the power to stop it. All we have to do is put down the glass of milk.

Image source: Mercy for Animals/Flickr

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0 comments on “Is There More Cruelty in a Glass of Milk or Pound of Beef?”

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Gina Stuessy
1 Years Ago

While an individual dairy cow may suffer more during her life than a bull raised for beef, what we really need to look at is days of suffering per calorie. There\'s a good analysis like this here: http://reducing-suffering.org/how-much-direct-suffering-is-caused-by-various-animal-foods/

Chickens and eggs involve vastly more suffering per calorie of food than either beef or dairy products, so really those should be the foods (and animals) to emphasize.

2 Years Ago


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2 Years Ago

If humans want to drink milk, why not stick to milk from their own species?
To this day, whenever I suggest this, I am greeted with a display of horror and disgust.
So why do most people think it\'s not disgusting or horrific to drink the mammary excretions of a different animal? never mind the cruelty involved in the whole process and the fact that milk is slowly but surely killing those who drink it regularly after babyhood.

Sharon Mathis
28 Aug 2014

Very thought provoking. I myself wondered something similar the other day. I asked my friend who breastfeeds her child what if moms used breast milk as a replacement for milk in cooking. She said she indeed knows of people that do such, its actually quite interesting.

Antonia Murphy
2 Years Ago

Seems like the lesson here is to avoid factory-farming, not beef and milk. Our cows here in rural New Zealand are positively spoiled with lovely weather and juicy green paddocks. I\'ve also visited a "freezing works" here (abattoir) and the lambs were stunned with electricity so their death was painless and (as Halal standards require) fearless.

Grass-fed meat and fresh, raw milk from happy cows tastes more delicious, too!

27 Aug 2014

How do you know their death was painless and fearless? There\'s no such thing as humane slaughter. Whether you hang them upside down and slit their throats, or try to stun them with electricty (which isn\'t foolproof), they get killed anyway. And believe me, every animal just wants to live. Why should we deny them that right?

We are the only animal in the world that still drinks milk after we\'ve grown up. And not even our own milk, but milk of another species. While it might be better for a dairy cow to stand in a field with \'lovely weather\' compared to her surroundings in factory-farming, she\'s still impregnated (some might even call it raped) every so often so she can give milk. Male calves still hold no value and in most cases are being taken away for slaughter (this happens with most biological dairy products). In natural circumstances, a cow produces just enough milk for her calves. Being forced to produce excessive amounts of milk and having it constantly taken away, is not only unnatural but also puts the cow in a very stressful situation. Imagine that you\'re constantly being impregnated, try to produce milk for your children but both the milk and your children and constantly being taken away from you.

As for meat, maybe one day we needed it, but now in most countries you can easily do without, and in my opinion every animal has the same right to live as we do. So I say no thanks to biological meat or meat from \'happy cows\', since pretty often that\'s a lie anyway.

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