In Canada, nearly one million cows are used in the dairy industry, including about 350,000 just in Quebec.1

These social and intelligent animals are, for the most part, kept chained by the neck in tie stalls. They also undergo systematic mutilation.

To produce milk for human consumption, they must give birth to a calf every year, who is usually taken away from them at birth. After five years of milk production, they are sent to auction and then to slaughter, to be killed for their meat.

Regulations governing the treatment of dairy cows in this country are very limited. In keeping with its mission to protect animals and raise public awareness, the Montreal SPCA is working to improve the protection of dairy cows.

Deprived of freedom of movement

The vast majority of dairy cows spend their lives in tie stalls, a housing system in which dairy cows are kept permanently indoors, tethered by the neck. Severely restricting their movement and preventing them from even turning around, this practice is used on 75% of Canadian dairy farms2 and is even more widespread in Quebec, with 90% of farms.

Currently, some 315,000 Quebec cows—the vast majority of cows—do not have access to the outdoors and cannot satisfy their most basic behavioural needs, such as moving around freely or socializing with their herd.

Complex social bonds

Cows need to groom each other, and this must be with individuals of their choice. This ensures social cohesion and friendly interaction within the herd, but they are currently deprived of the opportunity to express this behaviour. A study on free-range herds reported that pregnant cows receive more signs of affection and revealed they have favourite partners for grooming and whose presence calms their heart rate.3

Deprived of opportunities for interactions, grazing, moving freely and choosing the individuals they want to be in contact with, cows tied up in their stalls exhibit stereotypical behaviours, including repetitive biting or licking of metal bars—both indicators of psychological distress.3

Rich cognitive and emotional abilities

Current science demonstrates that cows have an interest in play (similar to that observed in other mammals, such as dogs) as well as the ability to experience a wide range of complex emotions, including emotional responses to learning (beyond responding to simple positive or negative stimuli), cognitive biases and emotional contagion within groups of cows. This suggests that cows are capable of sophisticated cognitive processes such as self-awareness and empathy.5

A recent study includes cows in the list of animals who can laugh: vocalizations characteristics to their species demonstrate positive emotion and occur in the context of play.6

Systematic mutilations

In industrial dairy production, cows undergo mutilations, such as disbudding (cauterization of horn buds at the beginning of growth) and thermal removal of udder hair with a cold flame.

The road to slaughter

After being used to produce milk all their lives, cows are usually sent to be sold at auction at about five years of age, and then to slaughter. Cull cows—those who no longer produce enough milk—make up the majority of ground beef sold to consumers. Typically, 25% of a farm’s dairy cows are sent to slaughter each year, which represents approximately 250,000 cull cows in Canada annually.7

A cow naturally produces milk to feed one calf every year at a rate of about 4 litres per day. In the dairy industry, a dairy cow is expected to produce enough milk to feed 125 people, or up to 30 litres per day.8

After about five years, cull cows, now exhausted by such a demanding production, are transported over long distances to be slaughtered.

For cows who have spent their lives in tie stalls and therefore have not developed their muscles (as is the case for the majority of Quebec cows), the jostling and standing for long periods they must endure during transportation over long distances can be very difficult.

Cows are not currently required to be dried off from their milk production to go to slaughter. They are routinely transported over long distances while still lactating, causing discomfort and increasing the risk of developing painful physical conditions, such as mastitis, an inflammation of the udders.

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