While many people’s eyes are opening to the cruelty of dairy production, one aspect of it is lesser-known—the exploitation of bulls’ and cows’ reproductive systems. Around the world, nearly all cattle used for offspring are artificially manipulated to procreate.
Warning: What you are about to read may be disturbing.
In the U.S. dairy industry, collecting sperm from bulls involves invasive and often extremely painful practices: electroejaculation, artificial vaginas, aspiration from the vagina of a recently bred cow, and transrectal massage.
Electroejaculation of bulls is commonplace across the U.S. dairy industry, yet it is so distressing and painful that the Netherlands and Denmark have banned it. The process begins with a rectal exam and insertion of a large electrified probe into the anus and rectum of a bull.
While holding the probe, the handler slowly increases the electricity setting from lowest to highest until the animal either ejaculates or passes out and falls down. If the bull does not ejaculate, workers can try again after just 15 minutes.
Bulls call out in pain during the process, kicking, falling, and struggling desperately to escape. Currently farmers do not administer pain relief.
“Transrectal massage” prepares bulls for this process. Handlers manually stimulate the nerves surrounding the prostate and musculature of the pelvis by sticking one arm up to the shoulder inside the rectum of a bull.
Internal Artificial Vaginas
Internal artificial vaginas (IAV) are inserted into the vagina of a “mount cow”—a female restrained in a breeding crate—to capture semen. A bull is allowed to mount her. While this is less uncomfortable for bulls than electroejaculation, it increases suffering for females.
In this process, bulls and cows breed “naturally.” Afterwards, the semen is collected from the cow’s vagina. As with electroejaculation, bulls are prepared for this through transrectal massage.
Collected semen is processed and frozen until farmers are ready to impregnate cows. To artificially inseminate, handlers shove their hands into a cow’s uterus and manually deposit the sperm. Throughout their pregnancies, cows suffer intrusive examinations that involve rectal exams.
While these practices are heartbreaking for us, they are much worse for the animals forced to endure them for their entire lives. But there is hope. We can help cows by choosing from all the wonderful plant-based milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream varieties on the market today.