August 9, 2016

Nose Flaps for Calves: Why They're Not as Bad as you Think

There are times when I regret finding innocent-looking pictures with misinformation attached to them. One of those times is finding several pictures pinned to Pinterest boards of vegan animal extremists making everyone believe that nose flaps are yet another evil of the dairy industry.

Several times I saw the same message on several memes:

And an additional messages attached (they vary in simplicity and sentence structure, but say the same thing:

First image: 
To all mothers - imagine you were prevented from feeding your baby and every time they tried to suckle intense pain was inflicted upon you, so much so that you ended up pushing them away and rejecting them. How would you feel? How would your baby feel? Meet dairy. This is cruelty beyond belief... 
Second image:
Since all the Cow's Milk is used to feed people, what do her baby calves drink?  
When it comes to the cruelties inflicted by the dairy industry - the forced pregnancies, forced separations, the veal calves, etc etc, we thought we had seen everything. But they somehow still manage to shock and appall us. For example, we only recently learned about this handy tool to keep those greedy calves away from it's own mother's milk.
Ironically most pictures are of calves that have reached weaning age of around 6 or 8 months old, not baby calves only days old. Most of these calves happen to be beef calves as well. Both photos depict a dairy calf yes, but a dairy calf raised with its mom until it was ready to be weaned.

My question of the day is do animal extremists even understand the concept of weaning? After I left a comment attempt to correct the misinformation in the photograph, a reply I received afterward (paraphrased) stated, "Only if the mother cow want's to wean her baby."


Apparently they really don't understand how weaning works. Which is fine because the only way they're actually going to learn is to find out for themselves. There's no way in hell they'll listen to me, who to them is a "shill for the industry." But I do hope some of you, reading this post, are ones who are willing to learn.

After all, no teacher can teach a student who is unwilling to learn.

Weaning Process, and How the Nose Flap Works

wean (verb): to accustom (a child or young animal) to food other than its mother's milk; cause to lose the need to suckle or turn to the mother for food.
With weaning cattle, a "young animal" is essentially a 6 to 8 (or 10) month old, 500 to 800+ lb calf or "short-yearling." These animals have been consuming feed and forage in addition to their mothers milk from the time they were only a couple weeks old. So, weaning is essentially getting those calves to stop relying on their mothers milk for additional sustenance when they are grown fully enough to get nutrition from other sources other than milk. 

We humans, with our animals, are much more gentle with the weaning process than other animals, particularly ungulates, tend to be with their young. A cow's kick is a bit more painful to endure than a bottle that gradually goes from straight milk to 95% water. But then again, completely separating young from dam is much more stressful than putting that calf in the chute, putting a nose flap on them, and letting them back with their mother.

Complete separation is the old way of weaning calves. And an incredibly stressful and traumatic event for both cows and calves. They get over it, of course, but it takes much longer for them to "get over it" than other weaning methods like fence-line weaning, or use of nose flaps.

Nose flaps allows the calf continue stay with mom while learning, by its mom and this device, to find other sources of food than his mothers milk. And no, it doesn't hurt the cow either, unlike this claim made by in conjunction with this image:

"The Spiked Nose Ring: A Symbol for Dairy Cruelty, These are inserted into a baby calf's nose so he is UNABLE to drink his mother's milk and at the same time the spikes hurt the cows soft underbelly so she's forced to move away from her baby calf...all this so humans can drink it's milk, eat cheese and ice cream..."
While the image of these nose flaps, especially the spiked ones, make it seem like it's a means to cause extreme pain to the cow, it actually doesn't. Even though the udder of a cow is one of the more sensitive places on her body, the spikes or prongs on the nose flap only cause a mild discomfort that doesn't break the skin nor causes significant bruising (both a clear sign that the cow has truly felt a lot of pain). This discomfort is enough to encourage the cow to kick out. The kick isn't so hard to hurt the calf, but to rather give the calf a good bunt to reinforce the message that he shouldn't be suckling anymore. The flap itself also discourages the calf from trying to latch on to the teat.

These flaps stay in the calves nose for only approximately 7 to 10 days; some producers like them in for 5. This gives enough time for the calf to learn, repeatedly, that it's time to rely on forages and feed rather than that part-time and the other part from momma's udder. And, by the time they figure that out, they can be separated from their dams with very little stress.

Of course, calves are smart; they can figure out that by flipping up the nose flap, they can continue to nurse from mom. And mom isn't so smart then at figuring out that her calf is too big to continue to nurse. There are actually a lot of cows like that in a natural weaning situation: they don't know that, even with another young'un on the way, and even 2 months away from next calving, that it's time for their older, big 10 month old calf to stop nursing. That's why human intervention is needed to give that newborn a chance with contraptions like the nose flap, or methods like separation with fences.

So when I see extremists posting these memes and "explanations" of how cruel these devices are, I question where they are actually getting their information from, or if they're just making shit up. I think I'd win the pot if I were to bet that the latter was true, and that the information they got that from was from the one individual that was making shit up.

Dairies Don't Do Nose Flaps

Now here's the clincher: Dairy operations very, very rarely use these nose flaps on calves, even less so on baby calves (you know, those calves that are a day to a few weeks old). In order to prevent calves from suckling from their dams, they have an extremely early "weaning" system where they remove the young calf from the mom and raise that calf in a separate area away from the lactating herd. This makes the use of nose flaps are completely unnecessary.

The only time a dairy operation would use nose flaps is if the calves are being raised on the cows in addition to those cows being milked for, well, milk. Just like in beef operations, when those calves get too big and old to be suckling on their dams regularly, the nose flaps teaches the calf to stop suckling and the dam to encourage the stopping of the suckling, while still allowing that close companionship between mom and offspring. Few dairies do this, and more often those farms that are able to have a herd of dairy cows and raise calves with those cows are going to use this device.

It isn't rocket science. And these nose flaps don't deter from that fundamental bond between cow and calf.

Nose Flaps are a Good Thing

The consistent claim is that nose flaps deny a cow from continue to have a relationship with her young. This is a lie. A calf does not need to be continuing to suckle from his or her mother in order to maintain that mother-young bond. Heifers that get back with the main herd after being weaned from their mothers do not forget who their mothers are, and continue to maintain that bond with them. I do not need to be continuing to suckle at my mother's breast in order to continue to maintain a relationship with her! So why can this not be the same for bovines? 

Why does it have to be "IF" the mother cow wants to wean her calf? That simply does not make any sense.

Nor does it make any sense to criminalize nose flaps like brass knuckles. Why does a device that is designed so that the stress of weaning is much lower on both cow and calf have to be made to be cruel and evil when it clearly is not?

And even more ridiculously, when dairies don't even use them! 

So no, nose flaps are not a bad thing. I encourage their use with producers that want to find a much lower stress way to wean their calves without having to separate cows and calves and put the calves on the truck right away to head to the auction mart. The separation can come after those calves have learned that momma's teats aren't to be suckled at anymore, but their mommas are still there with them through the whole thing. 
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