Monday 23 October 2017

Increased milk quota threatens Daisy's way of life

The Twelve Bens and Maamturk mountains tower above the fisherman's cottage in Connemara where we're staying this weekend. A family of grazing cows wander the fields behind the garden. It hasn't been mowed yet, so we wade through leaves of grass.

It seems a fitting way to mark the anniversary of American poet Walt Whitman, who revelled in nature. And we are surrounded by it. Bees bumble as the cuckoo's rhythmic call fills the evening. He's busy scouting prospective nests.

I ponder this quirk of nature as the three caramel-coloured Daisies reappear at sunset, corralling their curious youngsters. This nomadic herd enjoys a rare domestic bliss.

Most cows don't get to live their lives the way nature intended. The gentle herbivore is commonly fed corn in America, often lame from standing knee-deep in mud and excrement or from being confined indoors.

Traditional small-time farming is more humane. I regularly see cows with their suckling calves in the green fields of Kilkenny. But this freedom is for bullocks. Dairy cows are separated from their young within days, causing huge trauma.

And their lives are going to get harder. The Department of Agriculture aims to increase milk output by 50 per cent by 2020, cashing in on the end of the EU's milk quotas in 2015. Teagasc, the State agriculture agency, is researching the American practice of using gender-specific semen to produce more female cattle.

We're milking Daisy to death. And for what? Cow's milk isn't vital to human life, like water. Nor can imbibing accompanying antibiotics and hormones be healthy, as lactose intolerance levels show. The furore over Time magazine's cover of a mother breast-feeding her five-year-old child seems ironic.

Smoking-cessation guru Allen Carr believed the same brainwashing that convinces us we need nicotine, lies behind the belief that we must drink the white stuff produced by another animal to nourish its young, for us to survive.

And we are caught young. Like many schoolchildren, I did projects on milk and all its frothy glories. I thought cows produced it willy-nilly.

Knowing more about the ubiquitous beverage, non-dairy alternatives or buying from ethical farms are options. The slighter higher price is offset by treating milk as a pleasure, not a super-sized necessity.

A dawdling calf gets a maternal clip around the ear as the cuckoo starts its call again. Maybe he's found an unsuspecting parent to feed his imposter chick.

Cows and cuckoos; I wonder which one we resemble most.

Sunday Independent

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