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What happens to the Male Calves

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Probably one of the most misunderstood topics about dairy farming is the “mystery” of what happens to the male calves. Female cows are the only ones that can be milked. So what happens to the bulls.

Quickly searching Google, I found it hard to find a dairymen’s answer on this topic. Being an actual dairy farmer, I thought I would share this inside information.

Just as a quick note, there is so much misinformation online on this topic. Most of it is being spread by animal rights groups. It seems that they want you to believe that dairy farmers don’t care about the male calves since they don’t produce milk. This couldn’t be further from the truth though. The truth is that dairy farmers really do care about the male calves.

Dairy Farmers are animal lovers

Regardless of gender, dairy farmers love all cows. Dairy farmers are the biggest animal lovers I know. If they didn’t love cows, they would not be in this line of work.

In fact, you can read why I think dairy farmers should be called cow shepherds.

All animals are given the best care possible. Even the male calves.

What Happens to the bulls

Because the bulls can’t be milked, they usually have a different career path than the girls. Some of the boys are kept for breeding purposes. The bulls from the very best cows are kept for breeding. The others are raised for beef.

Even though they are raised as beef animals, they are raised to maturity and given the same care as the girls.

Most dairies do not sell the bulls as veal. Nearly all males raised for beef, are sold to beef operations. Interestingly, the veal industry has been in a steady decline for several decades. (Source) But you don’t have to take my word for it; this independent researcher came to the same conclusion.

Decalf and his bros

Jersey bull “de-calf” and his bros

Calves sleeping in the hay

Holstein bull sleeping in the hay with other calves (girls and boys)

Gender selected breeding

Technology has changed so many things, including things on the farm. A lot of dairies these days use gender selected semen when breeding their cows.

The female sperm is separated from the male sperm. Using this technology, dairy farmers can breed for only female calves. Many farms have used this technology to reduce the amount of boys that are born.

Baby calf

A Little Holstein bull “Sir Britton”

This guy lets out a little moo

Thoughts or comments, let me know in the comments below or tweet me @dairymoos

72 COMMENTS

    • I can’t stand articles like this, esp how they put the cute little cow at the end to fucking warm our hearts or something, it’s a disgusting tactic, trying to appeal to our kinder nature, to allow the torture and disgusting practices that go on behind the scenes. I hope the writer of this isn’t just some confused farmer, that would be even more depressing. The fact is that the MAJORITY of farmers are committing these atrocities, looking at the small percentage of people doing the best they can is just a distraction, and hurting everybody.

  1. God gave us cattle for food. Still I have to say that when I lived in Idaho I saw the little veal compounds where they kept the male babies confined.

    • The veal industry is so small these days, it’s struggling to survive. But for good reason – I don’t think it’s right

  2. God didn’t need to “create”animals to feed people .He/she/it could have made people vegetarians just like all “god’s” land menu creatures or even people that didn’t need to eat. Why would a loving god have created hundreds of billions ( from time in memorium ) of gentle, beautiful, loving, feeling animals just to have the abused, tortured , slaughtered and butchered by mankind. Just doesn’t make a lick of sense, no how, no way, nowhere on this god forsaken planet.

    • Yes, it’s interesting that humans weren’t created as vegetarians. It seems like that would have made this discussion so much easier right. That is until we figured out that plants also experience feelings and have emotions. Our vegetarian population would then go around terrorizing the plant kingdom. I think if you circle through these scenarios you begin to realize that everything in this world deserves respect. Plants and animals

      • If you read your Bible, humans were created vegan. It says right in there that man ate the fruits and vegetables. God did not tell people to start eating the animals until after Noah got off the Ark. And I don’t think he told them to start eating the animals because he was proud of Noah and his family after just destroying the entire world. He told them to start eating the animals because there was no food. We were made in the beginning not to eat animals. God was more like “If you humans are going to act like animals then you can live like one”. Read your Bible

        • Yeah, it says: Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything- Genesis 9:3. According to the bible, eating meat is ethical and allowable

          • You quote Postdiluvian Genesis (After the flood)… you know… when all the plants were dead because man had been punished.
            GEN 1:29 – “… I have given you every herb-bearing seed and… the fruit of a tree… to you it shall be for meat.”

        • Maybe you should read your bible, lol. Jesus ate fish and lamb, crazy for God to do that if we were created vegan. He also feed 5 thousand people fish and bread. Thats just off the top of my head. Check your statements.

          • Clearly God’s original intent for mankind was that they thrive on a plant-based diet. While He made an allowance to allow humans to eat meat (after the flooding), with the conditions in the world today (easy access to plant-based foods and the harmful nature of meat production), our compassion for animals, fellow humans, and the planet should make make it obvious not to eat animal products…

          • God did not insert fine print or terms and conditions. Meat eating is explicitly allowed according to the text in the Bible. Making assumptions like you are about getting into God’s head and figuring out his intentions is just your own philosophical belief, not Gods. If God wanted you to know that meat eating was a sin (or even discouraged) it would have been clearly written in the Bible. But it isn’t.

        • “If you read your Bible, humans were created vegan. It says right in there that man ate the fruits and vegetables.”

          If you look at our evolutionary history, and our closest primate relatives, you will find that we were, and they are, primarily vegetarian. Gorillas, for instance, consume grubs and termites, which comprise about 3% of their diet. The numbers are similar for orangutans–over 90% fruit and similar, and animal protein is mainly insects or eggs.

          Chimpanzees and bonobos, who are more intelligent than gorillas and orangutans, consume larger proportions of animal-based foods, and are not limited to insects and insect larvae. They hunt and consume vertebrates, including other mammals. These two species have the second and third highest encephalization quotients (EQs) of all species, with only humans boasting higher scores.

          Meat, particularly the way humans used to eat it (as in, eating every part of the animal, not just muscle meat), is much higher in amino acids and other nutrients that are necessary for brain development than plant foods (particularly grains, which are nutritionally garbage comparatively).

          On top of this, it takes more brain to stalk a gazelle, or even a rat, than to stalk a fig. The impulse to eat meat caused intelligence to be more vigorously selected for as a heritable trait.

          And on top of all of it, when we descended from the forests and entered the grasslands, these lands were essentially devoid of accessible plant nutrition. Early humans became entirely reliant on meat as a staple. Big game hunting did a few things–it provided the necessary “protein dumps” for advanced brain development; it selected for intelligence as an adaptive trait; it selected for cooperation between group members (it takes more than one guy to take down a water buffalo); and it selected for the emergence of something called “gift culture”.

          “Gift culture” is a way of gaining social status not through how much stuff you can get for yourself, but through how much stuff you can share with others. Imagine a man on the Savannah with a mate and a handful of children. He brings home a zebra. Even if he used endurance hunting on his own to bring it down, there’s no way he and his family can eat the entire thing before it spoils. So he shares the extra with the other members of the tribe. By sharing the extra with others, he becomes popular and esteemed. He’s seen as wealthy and generous. If he wasn’t willing to share, he would be considered a jerk.

          In other words, meat fed our big brains, and also made intelligence a highly selected for heritable trait. It also forced males to cooperate within groups, and facilitated a form of culture based on generosity rather than parsimony, which further facilitated tribal bonds.

          The ability of human males to coordinate and cooperate with each other is responsible for pretty much everything you see around you. Chimpanzees don’t have pencils. They don’t have them for a reason.

          Meat/hunting is a huge part of that.

          • The Zebra that you refer to is NOT a thing , as is a purse, car or ( and hold on folks ) a bible. The Zebra is a living, breathing, thinking, loving mother to their newborns . Clearly, Trump steaks have not made anyone smarter, just possibly more orange .

      • Then why not also eat domesticated dogs and cats, just like other “civilized” cultures do ? After all, what’s the difference ( God given protein being equal ) between a Goose and a Maltese ?

      • Actually our physiology is that of an herbivore, not an omnivore. You concern for the plant kingdom is interesting. Plants do not have emotions. They have chemical sensitivities that are not comparable to human, or any sentient creatures emotions. So since you are so concerned about the vegetarians terrorizing the plants, I hope you are aware that an exponentially greater number of plants die in order to create meat protien or dairy products than if we just ate the plants ourselves. I’ve read estimates ranging from 10 to 15 pounds of plant protien to create 1 pound of animal protein. Better to leave out the “middle cow” and consume a vegetarian diet directly. Better for the cows, better for our health, better for the planet.

        • You say plants don’t have emotions, but then note they do show signs of emotion. Just because plants are a different type of specie, doesn’t mean we should regard them less than. Differences do not merit less respect. Animals provide a more complete protein, with a more complete essential amino acid profile compared to plants. A diet with only plants is unbalanced and leads to deficiencies. We should moderate our diet to bring it balance. Extremes in anything lead to problems. That is the best path for the cows, our health, and planet

      • Show me a plant that has a central nervous system. They don’t have feelings. They can’t feel pain. They react to stimuli. There is a difference. Stick to what you know.

        • So an electric car is not a vehicle because it doesn’t have a gas motor… you are merely stating an opinion

          • Why don’t all dairy farmers use gender selected AI? Then every1 would be happy. My son works on a dairy farm and at the moment from a 200 herd 5 calves get the bullet a week. I don’t believe farmers are animal lovers when they could CHOOSE to breed in a more humane way. Don’t spout this crap that they are bred for beef..most don’t see 24 hrs on the planet and no I’m not a veggie just so.Wonersh who would like fair play and our farmers to stop spouting lies (if they say anything at all)

  3. What a total con job this is. It is completely unnatural for mature animals, of any species, to drink milk. We are the only animal that does that. Not only do we drink milk way past our weaning, but we drink the milk of another species !!! It’s nonsense. It’s very bad for our health, for the environment and of course for the cows and especially the calves. Dairy farmers are animal lovers ? Hardly. They love the profit they make from exploiting these gentle animals, and that’s all they love.

    • You typing this comment on the internet is also unnatural, yet you are the only mammal doing it. Do you see how this kind of reasoning is flawed. I think many people accept it because they don’t want to explore the entire issue. Is it really so hard to believe that a farmer loves animals. Keep in mind that an attitude of condemnation limits us and holds us back from exploring other paradigms 🙂

    • My adult cat enjoys a glass of milk now and then, he doesn’t know how to milk a cow but if he did he would. And you’ve got to love the profit in farming! Move over oil, milk is the real moneymaker.

      • Well not exactly – it has its ups and downs. We are losing money half the time and there’s no food stamps for cows..

  4. I’ve no doubt “farmers” love animals. The dairy industry is not about farmers, it is about 100% animal abuse , no more , no less .

  5. The bible was written at a time when there wasn’t many meat/fish alternatives.
    We know more know about animal consciousness and our own anatomy now to know that we can live healthily without animals suffering. I think creating anything for the sole reason of killing it is wrong.
    Back then there were no factory farms. Would God support factory farms?
    I doubt it.
    Stop using the Bible to justify mass murder. The reason that is murder is that there ARE other options then killing animals otherwise I’d call it survival.
    It is really that simple.

    • You’re assuming that people back in the day weren’t as intelligent as we are now. I think people back then were more connected to nature than we are today. They recognized that everything is alive.. thinking about it, there were more people farming and raising animals than there were people living in cities – today it’s reverse. Using terms like “factory farming” is proof of disconnectedness from farm life. With today’s technology, animals have better care than any other point in history..

      • ‘With today’s technology, animals have better care than any other point in history..’
        You’re not serious..you don’t really believe that…
        Why are factory farms off limits, enforced by the governments for anyone to see what really goes on and how animals are tortured…?

        • Wow, don’t sound so shocked.. You don’t seriously believe that animals never got sick or had problems on your great grandfather’s farm do you… Large barns to moderate weather, fans, temperature cooling, enhanced nutrition from dairy cow nutritionists, enhanced care with dairy cow veterinarians, and even things like automated cow brushes have enhanced the lives of the cows on the farm.
          Similar to us as people – technology has made our lives more comfortable, and the things we take things for granted – our grandparents were only dreaming about..

  6. People would never have eaten meat if they didn’t have to make animal sacrifices to atone for their sin. I think one of the reasons God instituted meat eating after the Flood was so that people would not only have to kill an innocent animal as substitution for their own guilt, but by eating it, they would be more horrified by what they had done, making the consequences for sin much more impactful, and maybe turn them away from doing more evil. Even in the OT people didn’t just kill and eat meat. It was done as part of the sacrificial system. Only later did people begin butchering animals apart from any connection to a sacrifice. There is no evidence that Jesus ate mammals or birds. It only records that he ate fish.

    • That is an idea, but you should research more. People in the OT did kill and eat meat. Are you forgetting that the ancient Israelites were nomadic sheep and goat herders. Abraham, Jacob, even Moses spent time as a sheep-herder. What do you think they were doing with their livestock. Because livestock were food they became a symbol of wealth and abundance. The wealthier people ate more meat than the poor people. Sacrifice meant offering your fattest animal. The best animal. The one you would have wanted to eat yourself. That is why it was a sacrifice, because you would have had less food because of your sacrifice. There is no evidence that Jesus didn’t eat meat and surrounding culture points to the fact that he probably did. If meat eating was wrong, you would think he would have said so..

  7. Dairy Guy, I think you got tagged one a certain type of people’s lists lol. Found your site to be very informative and used it to teach my boys about 1 of our cows, she is the only Dairy cow we have in our small herd. Thank you for sharing! From one animal loving, farmer to another! Southern Raised Jesus Saved in AL!

  8. I love your post and your comment’s answer. Always respectful and informed, even for the religious and vegan ones.

    Some notes for fan people: God (per se) didn’t create calmed and peaceful cows, they where breed that way by us. Think of it like dogs from wolf. Cows wouldn’t exist if we didn’t eat them.

    We need nutrients that can’t be found on vegetables. All vegans will require supplements (some of them created from animals), don’t tell me god/nature intended that we should eat supplements.

  9. I was fascinated while reading all of these comments! Being born Native American and choosing Jesus as my Saviour has allowed me to examine these issues open mindedly. I believe eating meat was essential to my ancestors survival. Today, as the veal industry has waned so will other farm industries. I have no doubt that some farmers are truly animal lovers (as I have seen while living on an Holstein farm during college) and there are also horrible farming practices which cannot be denied. The more we are informed the more farmers will be held accountable. Hooray for the extremists! For they propagate the evolution of our species. My hats off to the most honorable farmers who perpetuate the strengths of our bodies and try so desperately to meet the needs of society.
    My hope and prayer is not that everyone become vegan so that the farming industry collapse, but that everyone become more aware of their surroundings, more aware of what they’re doing in their day to day lives that affects all of our lives and for generations to come. May we respect this planet which gives us life to enjoy in every way with meekness and fear.

    • Awesome- thanks for commenting. I don’t think extremism is the answer though. Extremists do not enable change, but only cause anger and hate. Much better are the people who work together to create positive change in the world. When people of different backgrounds work together, they can create real, positive change. Going vegan and calling farmers murders does nothing to further change in the world. But don’t underestimate the contribution that farming has made in this world. Farming is an essential part of humanity and has allowed humanity to progress in other areas. It’s only through abundance that you can have a choice on what to eat. The absence of fear in where our next meal will come from has allowed for dramatic change in the world. Most farmers are actually concerned about ensuring proper care for the animals and environment. Perhaps the real problem preventing change is a lack of communication between farmers and consumers. When people can openly communicate and exchange ideas in a heartfelt way, real change can happen. Being an extremist is not a long term solution to improving animal well-being and the environment

  10. I get my milk from a local farm where I know the animals are well treated. I am not against eating meat, but I am against torture. So, yeah, I’m against veal. The farm where I get my milk, all the animals are pastured and the calves are allowed to stay with the mums until they are weaned. Then the females become dairy cows, the males become beef. I think that is OK. I am not OK with a calve locked in a tiny cage all its life.

    • Where is this farm you get your milk from? What’s it called?
      I have read many articles claiming that allowing dairy calves to stay with their mothers until they are weaned is too costly for the farmer. Also I have read that male calves raised for beef cost more to raise until they are large enought to slaughter than the farmer can realize in profit, making a farm like this financially unsustainable.

  11. I just want to publicly applaud the dairy guy here for his rational, gentle, considerate, and well-thought-out responses. I’m so impressed, especially considering the level of anger and hatred in the remarks he’s dealing with. I don’t know what’s “right” or “wrong” here, or if there even is a universal “right” and “wrong.” Are lions evil because they eat meat? Why should humans who eat meat be deemed evil? Because we are capable of considering the feelings of the animals we eat? Maybe. But meat is food for us. Every living thing needs food and takes food from other living things, whether they be similar (like other mammals to us) or very different (like plants or insects).

    In this comparison, both lion and man are just doing what they want – trying to fill needs and survive in a confusing and harsh world. If you’re vegan because you care about the lives of others, good for you. But you cannot end suffering by being vegan. Realistically, the entire cow species would have a very small population if humans didn’t raise and care for them (even if we only care for them in order to get food from them). And wild and “free” cows would have to deal with predators and starvation and all the lovely things that go along with being alive and free on earth. I don’t think there are many wild animals that die peacefully. Especially grazers. When they get old or ill and slow down, they quickly become meals for predators.

    So maybe consider that into your calculations. It’s not as simple as eat cow meat/consume cow milk at the expense of the cows, or don’t. What happens to the cows if people release them all and let them be and stop interfering? They don’t just have lovely happy lives. They have to find food and water in a crowded world. They have to escape the many other living things that want to eat them.

    Also, I will never completely understand (I don’t think) why so many vegans think it is necessary to push their beliefs on others via rude, hateful comments. Have you ever changed your mind about anything just because someone was awful to you? Why is it that you care so much about the treatment of these cows, but you don’t care about your own horrible treatment of people who simply have opinions and thoughts that differ from your own?

    I found this site because I have been searching for a dairy that is very humane. I love drinking milk, but I’d like to support people who treat their cows very well. Who allow their calves to stay with their mothers, and who do all they can to let their animals live happy lives (and die relatively gently).

    On that note, I think I myself were in a situation similar to the cows’, I would actually rather be killed for meat, provided the killing wasn’t horrible and agonizing, than to become old and live in pain every day, or to be hunted down by a lion and killed slowly and torn apart before I’m even dead. Just saying.

    At some dairies, I think the cows are very unfortunate and I feel very sad for them. If I could do something to help them I would. But at other dairies, I think they seem to have very good lives, and I believe they are very happy. I see nothing wrong with this.

    That’s all. Sorry that was long. This just… got me thinking a lot, I guess.

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