Friday, October 15, 2010

Mary & the milk of human kindness.

Howdy folks,

                   When I'm not working, and sometimes when I am, I spent a certain amount of time just staring at the television. Whilst indulging in this frightfully guilty pleasure of mine, I have recently taken issue with advertising; particularly advertising involving our friends - the dairy cows. There seems to be a spate of advertisements involving bovines currently showing on the television. These also have questionable messages, but I want to focus on just one - Mary, the Muller cow.

     And what has really got my goat about this particular advertisement? Where to begin...Firstly, the making of the advert... I'm not a bovine specialist but, as far as I'm aware, cows are herding animals. This instinct serves as a protective mechanism against predators. The more of you there are, the less likely you are to be picked off by a hunting lion or such like. Therefore, to be separated from the herd is a stressful thing for a cow. So, unless the rest of Mary's herd was just out of view, maybe having a donkey ride up the beach, Mary probably wouldn't have found the filming of this advertisement to be an overly enjoyable experience.
      I cannot deny that they show us just how beautiful cows are, but I dread to think how far that cow would have had to run to get those pictures in the can. It's not that cows can't run - they definitely can run. I've been chased by cows more than once. But you only need to look at a dairy cow to see that they aren't designed to be athletes. I know they probably would have had a cow relay team or something, the make up department would have made sure all their patches matched, and no cow would have to run further than she could manage. If they absolutely insist on making an advert like this, then I hope it was tag team running, and that Mary didn't have to do it alone.
      I'm also telling myself that encouraging Mary to run along the beach was merely a case of her farmer riding ahead on a donkey, rattling the feed bucket. I'm sure that the helicopter overhead (how else did they get an overhead shot like that) and the fright that would have caused, had absolutely nothing to do with causing the cow to run. And to set the cow's experience to a soundtrack of REO Speedwagon is, frankly speaking, unforgivable. A very peculiar way to say thank you.

     'Yes, but Frank, Mary wants to be a stallion; therefore she wants to run and run along pretty New Zealand beaches and, even if only in mind, she has the body to do so,''  I hear you... but it's an advert and I presume they'd use an acting cow whom, chances are, doesn't want to be a stallion. Unless she was supremely skilled in method acting, I sincerely doubt that she could fool her body into performing as if it were fitted with the cardiovascular system of a horse. So I stand by my previous points. Just the making of the advert has antagonised me, but what say I about the premise of the advertisement - Mary wants to be a stallion.

      I know that there are plenty of naturally occurring, well adjusted, transspecies and/or transgendered individuals out there. Thus, I know that Mary's desire to be a stallion isn't at all impossible. But, uncertain as I was about how common such desires are in dairy cattle, I put on my roving reporters cap and endeavoured to find out more. Belle bird suggested that I visit some old friends of hers. She was certain that they'd speak to me if I waited by the tree in the centre of the field until the herd returned from the milking shed. So, following Belle's advice, I made my way to Hefty Dollop farm to find out more about the life of a dairy cow.

   I'd waited nearly three hours when I heard the sound of bovines approaching. "Please will somebody teach that young farmhand how to handle the more sensitive udder," squealed a pained Felicity, #27, the youngest of the herd. "Duck and bell, Goddess please bless my chafed teats - they really hurt now!"
    "He does have a tendency to pull on them as if he's trying to pull a pint of ale," agreed Myfanwy, #33, the herd's matriarch. "But another couple of years of having that machine strapped to your udder three times a day, and you'll have lost all teat sensitivity."
    "The gentle thrill of having dandelions brush past them will be a thing of the past," interjected Jeremy, #42.
     Surprised by her friend's candid disclosure, Myfanwy momentarily stared at Jeremy before continuing as if she was also speaking from experience. "Unfortunately, Felicity, the only thing you have to look forward to is mastitis. Bounce whilst you can is all the advice I can offer."
    The cows seemed to be temporarily lost in their own bouncy thoughts so I interrupted with a polite cough.
   "Well, what exactly do we have here," queried Jeremy, #42, when she saw me. "Bit of a scrawny runt, aren't you?
   "Howdy cows!" I said. "My name's Mr Frank L. Fettle. Your dancing dumpling, Belle, suggested that I visit you."
    "Oh, I see," said Myfanwy. "How is that daft bird? We miss her around here."
    "And why do you want to see us?" Asked Jeremy, #42, without hesitation.
     I explained to the herd why it was that I was there, lurking under their favourite tree, and up to my bony shins in mud. "So, you see, I'm interested in the life of a dairy cow - how does reality compare to television?"

    So they knew what I was talking about, I showed the herd a selection of the recent crop of cow telly adverts. I don't think they were especially impressed with what they saw.
     "Well, I'm not sure which farms these ads are based upon but please book me a room there, straight away" hooted Felicity. "It looks like a holiday camp!"

     "If fate dictates that I absolutely have to regularly experience a tugging sensation between my hind legs, then it may as well be pleasurable experience," said Jeremy. "But I'm not entirely sure that I actually want to be a stallion; I've always wanted to be a tractor."

  Aside from Jeremy's desire to be a piece of farm machinery, within the small herd of approximately 50 cows I discovered that; one cow secretly desired to be a rabbit so that she could have a fluffy tail; three yearned to be birds so that they might be able to fly free, lay eggs and be free of milking; one wanted to be human so that she could experience the wearing of shoes and eating cake; one wanted to be an agent for the secret service. The remainder of the herd would settle for the opportunity to raise their offspring as nature originally intended.
     "It bears little resemblance to the world I know," replied Myfanwy. "We are artificially suckled two or three times a day. Between our trips to the shed we eat grass, and then spend the rest if the day chewing the cud and belching. Every so often we are impregnated. Do I get bored? Of course I do. Sometimes I crave to just sit beneath the tree and do some farmyard scenes in needlepoint. But I doubt my idea of heaven would sell many blocks of butter, nor would the reality sell many pots of yogurt."
    "Do you see that cow standing next to the gate?" asked Myfanwy.
    I looked towards the gate, and sure enough there was a lone cow standing there; her muscular body was pushed right up against the fence as if she were halfheartedly trying to force her way through it. Maybe it was because of the exhaustion but she seemed oblivious to the barbed wire scratching at her black and white throat, which was slowly turning crimson. The farmer had had to turn off the electric current which normally ran through the fence, because not even the repeated jolts of electricity deterred the distressed cow. It was a pitiful sight.
      "That's Millicent," said Myfanwy. "We've heard our farmer talk about mad cow disease, and how awful it is, but Millicent really has fallen into insanity. She won't move from the fence, not even to eat. It seems that harming herself is the only thing that makes her feel alive. The farmer has been herding her into the artificial suckling shed with the rest of us, but now that she's stopped eating her yield has come a poor harvest. He knows she's in a bad way but if she doesn't snap out of it soon he will have to call in the vet, and we all know what that means. We're all terribly worried about her. They don't show this kind of thing in the the pretty little adverts. But I guess the reality wouldn't sell milk and we'd all be out of a job."

      From the guinea pig to the whale, mammalian mother's produce milk. Obviously whales aren't that easily farmed, and you'd need huge quantities of guinea pigs just to bake a cheesecake; but cattle have been domesticated because they're perfect for the job. I know that for there to be fresh milk to pour into my tea, first the cows must bear their young. Yet, when I looked around the field, I saw very few calves.
  "The farmer takes them pretty much as soon as they're born," mooed Myfanwy. "A few of the males are reared elsewhere, where they grow up to be veal or beefburgers. But most of our newborns perish in the bang of a shotgun. Our children are an expense the farmers can't afford so most of them are dispatched as quickly as possible...They took one too many of her calves and Millicent's now been overwhelmed with grief."

    Unsure of what else to say I asked why they kept making milk if there are no calves to feed? Is there any reason why they couldn't cease production in protest at the loss of the calves?
  "You mean any reason aside from that we'd all be slaughtered if we stopped producing milk?! No more milk and the dairy cow might well become an extinct species. You seem a nice chap, Frank, and as much as we've complained to you this afternoon about the unnatural amounts of milk we have to produce; the losses we suffer as a result; how our teats, udders, feet, and hips hurt, still I'm not sure that mass suicide is really the answer," snorted Jeremy, # 42, somewhat in a state of dismay at my apparent inability to grasp the route to the abattoir.
    "But if the farmer doesn't have the space or money to feed them, then we are powerless to prevent our calves from being taken from us at some point in their young lives. So maybe it is better they are taken soon after they come into the world,"said a thoughtful Felicity, showing her youth. "You know, before we have the chance to bond." 
     "Maybe," said Jeremy, first gazing at the distraught Millicent, and then at her own swollen stomach. "We may only have until the colostrum runs dry to count every perfect eyelash, but we don't forget those months where we feel the kicking of little hooves," 
     "True," conceded Felicity. "But at least if they take your little one, then you know the unfortunate heiress isn't here yet."
    "The unfortunate heiress?" I asked, fearing the reply.
    "When we're considered too worn and weary to produce a decent yield, then our number is up. The unfortunate heiress is what we call the calf that we're allowed to suckle to our breast. But she is also the calf that will replace us in the herd, and she will have a life very much like ours," replied Myfanwy, resigned to her and her next daughter's fate. As the eldest of the Myfanwy's next calf, (which as I write, isn't much more than an embryo,) could easily be her last and she'll be off to the slaughterhouse like her mother before her. 

     My heart plummeted at the news that the cows suffered such losses in their lives as a matter of course. It seems to me that my new friends are merely milk and meat factories in a no win situation, at least no win for them.
  This herd at Hefty Dollop farm are some of the lucky ones. They are on a small farm, their farmer knows them all by name, and he treats them with as much kindness as he can. But still, it's not an easy life for a cow.  

     I'm not going to preach to people to stop eating dairy products. That would be utterly hypocritical as I'd be a truly hopeless vegan, I love cheese far too much. But since meeting the cows, I know that I will be mindful and more appreciative of the milk in my coffee, and I will pay zero attention to cow adverts on the television.

For more information about the welfare of cows, and how you can help, please check out the Compassion in World Farming website. There you will also find more information about the Cows Belong in Fields campaign. 

Some other horrors...

The Anchor Cows - I hardly no where to begin...

Cravendale - I quite like these strange adverts - at least they don't use real cows.

Yeo Valley - Hooray! It's the humans doing the hard work - This advert makes me want to join the young farmers. 

My regards to you all,


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