A dairy cow looking out of overcrowded stall

Dairy factory farms on the rise – Australian cows face life in intensive indoor ‘barns’.

The hidden story of dairy ‘production’ is already one of immense suffering for mother cows and their calves. But the industry that treats these sensitive and intelligent animals as nothing more than milk-producing machines is now, sadly, taking that a step further.
Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 17 December 2021

Dairy ‘factory farms’ are relatively new in Victoria, and there are already plans for expansion. Here’s how you can help.

Mother cows trapped in the dairy industry live an unnatural life. They are forced to experience pregnancy after pregnancy, but they will never be able to nurture their calves. And now, in terrible news for mother cows, the Australian dairy industry has brought US-style dairy factory farming to Victoria.

In ‘indoor’ dairy facilities, a cow’s movement is restricted. Day after day, she is housed on hard, artificial surfaces or lies on a ‘bed’ of recycled manure. Seven hundred cows are already kept confined to an indoor system in one Victorian facility, with plans to expand that number to 2,500 cows.

The move to this factory farm system highlights the industry’s focus on increasing the milk output of these mothers, but at great cost to their physical and psychological wellbeing. The artificial environment denies cows some of their most natural behaviours. This is an issue on top of concerns that already exist across all dairy systems, such as the separation of mothers and calves, and the killing of ‘bobby calves’

Australians are becoming increasingly aware of how farmed animals suffer in our food systems, and how our choices at the supermarket can spare animals from intensive factory farming becoming the ‘norm’ for dairy cows here in Australia.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Dairy cows inside a big dairy farm
700 cows are confined in a so-called free-stall barn in Victoria. (Image credit: ABC Rural)

Dairy is milk from a mother, made for her calf

Dairy production involves separating mother and calf, killing ‘bobby calves’, and other forms of legalised cruelty. Most male calves are considered useless to the industry. These unwanted calves are called ‘bobby calves’ – hundreds of thousands of bobby calves are slaughtered in Australia each year.

Some female calves are raised to replace the dairy cows when their milk production slows. After a stressful separation from their mothers, they will experience painful procedures like horn disbudding often without pain relief, repeated pregnancies, and, possibly, risky forced births. They are often considered ‘spent’ and sent to slaughter by eight years old, although cows can normally live for over 20 years.

Dairy cows are treated like ‘milk machines’

Dairy cows, as we know them today, are the result of decades of selective breeding and feed manipulation. In the last 40 years, the dairy industry has doubled the amount of milk a cow produces, despite the suffering caused by health issues like painful mastitis.

“…our milk supply is up 55 per cent on last year, with just a few more cows…” – Victorian dairy farmer, ABC, 28 September 2021

Cows in barn-housed systems walk less, exert less energy, and therefore produce more milk. Justifying the confinement of cows in sheds for this reason overlooks each individual cow as a sentient and social being. The good news is that we can all protect cows from these systems by choosing dairy-free foods.

Cows should have access to shelter and freedom to move

No animal should be forced to endure hot Australian summers without shade; however, they should be given the option to choose shelter. Confining cows in large numbers in an artificial, indoor environment, denies them of the opportunity to express their most basic natural behaviours – including grazing in a free-range environment.

It comes as a shock to many Australians that there is no legal requirement to provide farmed animals with shelter or shade (unlike companion animals like dogs or cats). Sadly, it is common to drive past cows under a burning sun, or lambs shivering in winter – find out more about how farmed animals are exposed to legalised cruelty.

Cows are sensitive, intelligent and have best friends

These gentle animals are loving mothers, have best friends, and enjoy challenges and playtime just as much as the dogs we share our homes with.

What’s best for mother and calf is also best for our shared environment

Instead of moving cows into sheds to reduce our land and water use, filling our plates with more plants can spare even more farmland and fresh water. A significant Oxford University study found that global farmland could be reduced by over 75% without meat and dairy consumption — “and still feed the world”. Focusing on animal-friendly sources of calcium and protein will also reduce our impact on the climate, and reduce our impact on Australia’s precious wildlife.

You can shape a brighter future for cows and calves, starting now

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A dairy mother cow with her two calves on a lush green grass.
Dairy is milk from a mother, made for her calf.