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Dairy Media Briefing

Viva!’s research and investigation of dairy farms, revealed an image that most would find hard to associate with dairy farms. There were no green pastures, no calves suckling for milk on their mothers.

Viva! saw the reality of the milk industry that turns mother cows into milking machines after taking their babies away. We found some female calves placed in small confinement areas and others chained by the neck; neither situation allowed for any type of companionship. Some calves were dead.

Dairies are impacting our communities through the environmental problems they cause.

Size of the Industry

According to the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP), California has been the nation's leading dairy state since 1993 and produces 19% of the nation’s milk supply.1 There are 2,700 dairy farms in California (EPA).2 The average herd size in California is 656 cows.3 The CDQAP estimates that one out of every six cows who produce milk in the U.S. lives in California.4

According to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture, 6.2 million cows, 12.4 million female calves, and 1.3 million male calves were slaughtered in 2001.5

Babies of Milk Producing Cows

Cows only produce milk after they have given birth. Both male and female offspring are separated from their mothers immediately to a few days after birth. Viva! videotaped baby calves and their mothers bellowing for each other after having been separated but still within earshot. This is a well-known occurrence observed by many people who have spent time on dairy farms.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is estimated that 6.6% of the annual number of heifers born, die as a result of diarrhea.6

Male Calves are Turned into Veal

The industry has an excess of calves. Male calves are essentially useless to the dairy industry because they do not produce milk. The male offspring who are not turned into breeding stock are typically used for veal. In 1998, about 15% of these calves were slaughtered up to 3 weeks of age (around 150 pounds) and are known as ’bob’ veal.7

The majority of the calves are ’special fed.’ They are raised until they are about 16 weeks old (around 450 pounds) when they are slaughtered.8 They are confined to small stalls (too small to turn around or walk) and have no access to other calves.9

Females Calves - The Replacers

The female offspring are usually kept for replacement of the dairy herd.10 Due to the fact the cows are slaughtered for a variety of reasons, dairy farmers need to have a high number of calves on hand to replace the mothers. The farmer may decide to kill or sell some of the females depending on his needs.

The females are kept in a variety of confinement systems. However, a majority of the calves we have seen in California have been kept in smaller areas where they have very little room. Photos of these can be seen on our website.11

Mother Cows/Milking Cows

Cows are milked 2-3 times a day.

According to Dairy Today, more cows are giving birth to twins with an increase of 5-8% in second-lactation cows and older. These cows have higher levels of metabolic disease and reduced productivity. If the twins survive, they have reduced birth rates. Some of the possibilities of why this is happening are genetics, breed, season, number of previous births, ovulation rate, and milk production.12

Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary glands caused by a toxin produced by invading microorganisms. Severe signs include abnormal secretions; hot, swollen quarter or udder; fever; rapid pulse; loss of appetite; dehydration; depression; and death.13

Lameness is a common condition on farms. It can be caused by poor hoof care, overuse of concentrated feeds, mucky conditions, and rough abrasive concrete.14

Cows are slaughtered around 5-6 years old.15 Their normal lifespan is around 25 years.

The trend of keeping cows in more confined areas which has resulted in prolonged standing on concrete floors has also caused an increase in foot problems. One veterinarian at the University of Florida stated that this causes lameness and other crippling disorders.16

The USDA's National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA, reported that the death rates of dairy cows within the first 2 weeks after giving birth have doubled in the past 20 years.17

Legal position18

Cows, like other animals raised for food, are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act. There are no standards set by the U.S. government for how animals are housed, fed, or treated on farms.

Thirty states have anti-cruelty statues that exempt customary farming practices. This means that any practice, no matter how horrible, is allowed if it is customary.

Day-old baby calves are transported from the dairy farm before they are able to walk, resulting in calves being thrown, dragged, or trampled. In addition to this, downed cows (those unable to stand or walk) are often dragged for slaughter when they are physically unfit for travel. Even though California has a law regarding ’downed’ animals stating that immediate veterinary assistance is required, Viva! has filmed two downed cows, one in Petaluma and another in Modesto.


Cows are slaughtered by first being driven to a knock box or some type of restrainer, and from there they receive a blow to the head from a captive bolt device. They are then shackled, hoisted, and stuck. The animal then bleeds to death.19

According to an article in the Washington Post, one worker at an IBP plant stated, "The cows can get seven minutes down the line and still be alive. I've been in the side-puller where they’re still alive. All the hide is stripped out down the neck there."20

It has also been reported that in some slaughterhouses, iron pipes are used to kill the baby calves. Workers feel that this is faster than the captive bolt gun because their skull is still soft.21


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website, a single cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet manure per day. Estimates equate the waste produced per day by one dairy cow to that of 20-40 humans per day."22

In California, a million cows on dairies produce around 30 million tons of manure each year. Proper management of the waste from California’s dairies "is one of the state’s most pressing environmental issues." The EPA states, "In 1998, the State Water Resources Control Board listed the water quality of nine rivers and 49 ground water basins to be impaired by animal operations." 23

Even smaller dairies can cause problems, such as some in Marin and Sonoma counties which are located on hills that slope toward creeks and streams.24

Undercover filming

Viva! has witnessed the treatment of animals at the Petaluma auction, where day old calves with their umbilical cords still wet were sent to auction to be slaughtered. Barely able to stand, these animals were poked and prodded.

Viva! has also seen a small veal farm in Petaluma where the calves are unable to turn around and can barely even move.

In September of 2001, Viva! videotaped a downed cow outside a slaughterhouse in Modesto. Although the slaughterhouse had water nearby, the cow was unable to reach it.

In May 2002, Viva! videotaped farms in Modesto & Turlock where female calves were being kept:

First location: Females confined individually in small white huts. Uncertain if they were able to turn around. Some had knocked over either their food or water and were unable to reach it. Significant number of flies.

Second location: Females confined separately in wooden crates above ground.

Elkhorn Dairy, Dinuba (May 2002)

Massive dairy. Rows and rows of cows underneath awnings. Some had fans and sprayers. Large building housed a ’milking parlor.’ Here cows were standing on top of a rotating metal floor and being milked. In the area where the cows were standing on a combination of dirt and cement flooring, there was some type of water overflow. A lot of the cows were standing in water.

Zysling Dairy, Dinuba (May 2002) (also known as GH&G; Zysling Dairy)

Zysling is trying to secure a permit to build a 6,000 cow dairy in Dixon, CA. A number of cows at this dairy had mucous dripping from their nostrils. One cow had a definite cough. There were areas of the feedlot where the cows were knee deep in mud and excrement. One cow had very inflamed teats.

Albers Dairy, Ontario (May 2002) (also known as the Heritage Dairy)

Albers has secured a permit to build a 6,000 cow dairy in Dixon, CA. As soon as we drove up we saw a dead calf. The landscape of this place was frightening. The cows were in dirt areas and the smell was pervasive. A number of the cows had very large udders. We saw a cow in the distance with her head tucked under her body rocking back and forth. We were unable to get any footage of this. The smell at this farm was particularly bad.

Southern Georgia (February 2001)

Although a relatively small dairy, the female calves (waiting to replace their mothers) were kept in small cages. Here they were subject to the sun and the rain. There was one calf who bellowed loudly and repeatedly for her mother. The mother and babies called to each other back and forth.

Video footage and still photos are available on this campaign. Contact us at info@vivausa.org or 530/759-8482. You can also view these on our website here.

1 www.cdqa.org/facts/
2 www.epa.gov/region09/cross_pr/animalwaste/california.html
3 www.cdqa.org/facts/
4 www.cdqa.org/facts/
5 www.fsis.usda.gov/ophs/adrsdata/2001/01rm1.htm
6 http://dairynet.outreach.uiuc.edu/papers.cfm?topic=5
7 www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/veal.htm
8 www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/veal.htm
9 http://warp.nal.usda.gov/awic/pubs/97issues.htm#Issue12
10 www.suite101.com/print_article.cfm/3521/85533. De Beyer, Don. From Cud to Table: The Story of the Dairy Industry. January 1, 2002.
11 www.vivausa.org/PhotoGallery/Dairy/dairy1.htm
12 www.agweb.com/news_show_news_article.asp?articleID=87385&newscat;=GN
13 www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Topic/AgrEnv/ndd/milking/MASTITIS_AND_ITS_CONTROL.html
14 Grandin T. Animal care increasingly under the magnifying glass. May 23, 2002.
15 Taylor RE, Field TG. Scientific Farm Animal Production, 6th Ed. Prentice Hall, 1998.
16 Woods C. UF Hoof Care Program Gives Prompt Relief to Suffering Animals. November 15, 2001.
17 www.agweb.com/news_show_news_article.asp?articleID=86505&newscat;=GN
18 Wolfson, David J. Beyond the Law. Farm Sanctuary; 1999.
19 Eisnitz GA. Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside of the U.S. Meat Industry. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.
20 Warrick, Joby. 'They Die Piece by Piece.' Washington Post, April 10, 2001. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn.articles/A60798-2001 Apr9.html. Accessed on April 10, 2001.
21 Eisnitz GA. Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside of the U.S. Meat Industry. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.
22 www.epa.gov/region09/cross_pr/animalwaste/problem.html
23 www.epa.ov/region09/cross_pr/animalwaste/california/html
24 www.epa.ov/region09/cross_pr/animalwaste/california/html