Forgotten Mothers: Dairy’s Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: A Disturbing Yet Familiar Vision of Motherhood

As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s worth reflecting not only on the different experiences of motherhood in human society but also in the animal kingdom. Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, paints a chilling picture of a society in which a woman’s value is measured solely by her reproductive abilities. Each month, fertile women must submit to the men who control them with the goal of becoming pregnant. After nine long months, the family that “owns” her immediately takes the resulting child from the birth mother to raise. Then the process begins again and repeats until the woman is no longer fertile and can’t bear children. She is then relegated to a much less important position, and a new handmaid takes her place.

Dairy Farming: The Milkmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale scenario is not so different from the reality dairy cows face daily. Farmers forcibly impregnate cows repeatedly until they can no longer bear calves. Humans rip away the calves each time they are born to take the milk their mothers produce for them. The fate of the calf often depends on their gender. Female calves will follow the same horrific fate as their mothers while farmers usually slaughter male calves in their first week of life. Those that survive longer are kept in crates so tiny they cannot move. Farmers use the small housing containers to keep the calves’ muscles tender before slaughtering them for veal. In either case, the mother mourns the loss of her babies repeatedly until she can no longer give birth anymore. Then she is sold or sent to slaughter because she no longer benefits the dairy farmers.

The Plight of Dairy Cows: Unseen Mothers in Agony

No matter how much people try to convince themselves otherwise cows do mourn. Cows have deep maternal instincts and exhibit signs of mourning when their calves are taken away. They frantically call and search for their lost calf, often bellowing and crying for days after the separation. Some cows have even been observed shedding tears. They readily defend their young, placing themselves between the farmer and their calves. Some go as far as hiding their calves to keep them safe.

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Clarabelle’s Tale: A Mother’s Love Knows No Bounds

Clarabelle, a former dairy cow, exemplifies this protective motherly instinct. Rescued just hours before slaughter, Edgar’s Mission volunteers discovered she was pregnant shortly after arriving at the sanctuary. When her due date neared, Clarabelle began to act strangely. She seemed wary of the volunteers and kept a distance from them. They soon realized that Clarabelle had secretly given birth and hidden her calf in a patch of tall grass. She knew from a lifetime of experience that if the humans found him, they would take her calf from her, so she did everything in her power to protect him. She did not know that this time would be different and that her calf would be allowed to stay with her at the Australian sanctuary and nobody will ever take him away. Clarabelle’s story is a poignant reminder this Mother’s Day of the universal bond between a mother and her child, transcending the boundaries of species.

Hidden Calves: Desperate Attempts to Protect Their Young

Clarabelle’s story is not unique. Other cows have hidden their baby in an attempt to protect them. Another story recounts one mother on a dairy farm who birthed twins. She left one in the open for the farmer to find and hid the second one. Hiding the calf worked temporarily until the farmer noticed her low milk output. After he discovered her calf, she lost the second baby as well.

Shattering the Myth: The True Cost of Dairy Products

Many people mistakenly hold the belief that dairy products cause no harm to dairy cows and their offspring. This idealism is far from the truth. The dairy industry inflicts daily suffering on cows. Farmers repeatedly impregnate dairy cows by artificially inseminating them and steal their babies again and again. Mothers mourn and search for their lost calves, never entirely understanding the disappearance of their babies. Workers connect them to machines daily to take the milk intended for their calves.

Calves also suffer in the dairy industry as they either face slaughter or become dairy cows themselves, repeating the cycle of suffering. When a farm deems a cow no longer useful, they dispose of them. In essence, the dairy industry uses dairy cows and then discards them, much like the human handmaids in Atwood’s book.

Breaking the Cycle: Choosing Compassionate Alternatives

What can we do to alleviate the suffering of dairy cows, their calves? The answer is simple. Ditch Dairy. Stop paying for their suffering by refusing to purchase animal-derived milk and dairy products. Some popular options to try are soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk just to name a few. With all the different types of plant-based milk available there is no reason that humans should be consuming mammary secretions from other animals.

Other dairy alternatives like cheese, butter, sour cream, and cream cheese are available in most stores. Some current offerings are better than others, but most are delicious. With some research, and determination avoiding dairy products becomes relatively easy.

Mother’s Day Call to Action: Standing Up for All Mothers

This Mother’s Day, remember the mothers who have had their babies stolen so carelessly, just so humans can enjoy their milk, cheese, or cream. Acknowledge that sentient beings endure torture every day until they are no longer deemed useful or profitable just for dairy products. Choose to stop funding their suffering. The volunteers at Edgar’s Sanctuary put it this way: “If you love dairy products and don’t believe you can ever find an alternative, remember that mother cows love their babies many times more.”



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