The subject of humane milking is a slippery issue and frankly, until now, it wasn’t altogether clear who in Israel is doing the job well. If such a thing is possible. But Amalia Rosenblum spent months researching the country’s various milk-producing facilities to separate the meat from the industry’s bones, at the end of which she churned out an exhaustive and fascinating commentary about what she learned.
We urge you to peruse the fruits of Amalia’s landmark investigation, but in the meantime, we’ve digested a fast scorecard of the cowsheds, goat farms and a buffalo farm she visited in her quest to find dairy that can be consumed with a clear conscience.
Amalia arranged her story so that the dairy industry’s worst offenders appear first.
In so doing, she is able to delineate exactly what makes this business so unnatural and so inhumane so that once you reach Neot Semadar, the kibbutz whose goats receive the best treatment of them all, you’re emotionally invested in their relative freedom.
Ronen Bar from Anonymous for Animal Rights told Amalia that “reducing the suffering of animals” takes precedence over protecting their right to live a pain-free, natural life, and she unveils to what extent each facility is willing to forego profits in order to prevent the suffering of sentient beings in their care.
We followed Amalia’s extraordinary journey from enormous commercial cow sheds to boutique goat farms and pulled out some of the main differences between each facility, as outlined by Amalia.
Near Gaza, this cowshed is home to Harata, a cow named regret who has produced 18,208 liters of milk in her life.
This facility separates calves from their mothers immediately. They are fed colostrum the first day to build up their immunity, after which they are fed cow milk for one week and then milk powder.
Allowing the calf to drink their mother’s milk poses a hygiene risk, so the argument goes.
This kibbutz uses a freeze brand to mark each cow, and prevents the growth of horns with an ointment that would kill the animal if it reached the brain.
Each dairy cow starts producing calves when they are roughly two years old and typically give birth to four each, through artificial insemination controlled by ‘genetic improvement’ that optimizes milk production.
Cows are not put out to pasture. In fact, not a single cow in all of Israel, according to Amalie, is put out to pasture.
Rosenberk & Ashkenazi Goat Farm
Northwest of Safed, this goat farm has 2,000 milk goats that are kept in giant, overheated hangars.
Kids are separated from their mothers immediately, which is so distressing to the mothers that they cry. They go through this four or five times in their lifetime.
Horns are shorn off using a serrated knife and soldering iron, which puts the animals into ‘crisis mode’ for an hour. During this time they sit in a corner, where they reject food until they are able to recover from the trauma of this painful experience.
The billie goats, as well as the mothers that perform poorly, are usually sold to the local Druze community for goat meat.
This Galilee kibbutz is an organic dairy farm, where each cow produces on average about 10,500 liters of milk each year.
They are not branded and they are allowed to keep their horns and this is the only cowshed that Amalia encountered that gives expecting mothers a break so that they can gather strength to give birth. Other cows are fed antibiotics at this time.
For now, babies are taken from their mothers and fed colostrum the first day, but then for the next 70 days they are fed mother’s milk instead of powdered milk. After that they receive hay and silage grown on the grounds of Harduf.
No chemicals or hormones are used at all.
Eventually this kibbutz, which is staffed by men and women undergoing some kind of rehabilitation, hopes to experiment with allowing the mother to feed their babies after giving birth. While this would have both health and psychological benefits, there is a chance that the separation of the calf from its mother after two weeks might be more traumatic.
These cows are not put out to pasture because it’s too “hot.”
East of Ashdod, this buffalo farm is run by a very compassionate family.
The buffalos are harder to control than cows, and therefore have an easier time. They are neither branded nor dispossessed of their horns.
They live twice as long as cows but their birth experience is distressing. Buffalo cows will spend three days in a similar crisis mode after they give birth and their babies are taken away from them, which poses a danger because they need to stand up and express their milk so that their uterus can shrink.
Baby buffaloes will refuse artificial teats if they so much as catch a whiff of their mother’s teat, and the male calves are sold to a slaughterhouse within three days.
They are given mother’s milk for three days, following which they are fed with with powdered milk for two months.
We have espoused the greatness of this desert kibbutz on several occasions, but we didn’t realize they are also rock star goat farmers.
240 Milk goats, 60 young females and 10 billies are given plenty of open space in which to roam each morning during the milking process. Thereafter they are put to pasture for two hours.
Since it is hot in the desert, this depletes the goat’s energy and therefore its milk production, but it’s a loss the kibbutz is willing to accept just to hear mama goat bleat and have her kids come running.
Their horns are not shorn off.
Still, only one quarter of the goats that are born are able to stay at the farm. The rest are sold to the local Arabs or Bedouins for meat.
And that’s a wrap. Please read Amalia’s full story here for a deeply illuminating look at the inner workings of Israel’s dairy industry. This is a surprising tale of supply and demand, which puts the cruelty and suffering almost squarely on the consumer’s shoulders.
Image credit: Goat udder being milked, Shutterstock