As I lay on the
ground they grew even bolder and came closer to inspect (sniff) me.
One of the calves seemed to claim me and pushed the others back with
her head when they tried to come closer. She wanted to be the only
one to get really close. This wonderful sniffing fest came to an abrupt
end when the lead calf started to vigorously sniff my crotch. My boyfriend
and I let out huge belly laughs that sent the shy calves backing up
in high gear!
After this we
decided to explore the peninsula and walked up a steep rocky path.
Unbelievably the calves followed! I always imagined cows to be quite
clumsy and dumb creatures, but these calves ran up the rocky slope
like graceful deer! For the rest of the afternoon they followed
us wherever we went, except for the places that were too treacherous
for them to pass, and in those cases they waited loyally until we
altered my ideas about calves and cows. No longer could I think
of cows as mindless black and white masses on the side of the road
any more. What I experienced was a creature with a peacefulness
and easiness that seemed to reflect the grassy meadows on which
it frolicked, a creature with an active mind that was interested
in exploring mammals as intimidating as human beings, and a creature
that galloped through the fresh air with a sense of joy.
when I returned to the Norwegian coast in the winter, I got to see
the sights and sounds that altered my ideas about milk. After having
such a wonderful time with my small friends in the summer, I was
anxious to see them again. The dairy farmer to whom they belonged
lived right next door, so I had only to ask his permission, and
I was on my way over to see the cows.
On first entering
the barn I was struck with an overpowering smell, like raw sewage
and strong chemicals mixed together. This was disconcerting, but
I ignored the stench in favor of seeing the cows.
As we entered
the main part of the barn where the cows were kept I was unprepared
for the upsetting scene that met my eyes. These were not my summer
friends, but shadows of the creatures I played with in the summer.
Every cow was chained to a steel pole that ran parallel to the floor.
They had enough leeway to sway from side to side, but not enough
slack to take a step, to turn around, or nuzzle their neighbor.
Because of this they had to stand in their own feces. Their back
sides, from the base of their tails to the bottoms of their hooves,
were covered in their own waste.
As my mind began
to grasp the details of the scene, I realized that I was surrounded
by the most terrible sounding wails. All of the cows were making
a noise that cannot be described as mooing. It was a terrible crying
out. I wanted to go close to these beloved creatures and say some
kind words to soften this nightmare, but every time I moved towards
them, they became extremely agitated. Finally, my disappointed heart
acknowledged that I could not comfort these beautiful animals; I
would only upset them more and add to their agony.
As I turned
around to walk out of the barn I noticed a very small calf sitting
in a crate in the corner of the barn. As small as a medium sized
dog, the calf could not have been more than a week old. It was all
alone in a crate that was about as big as a playpen. As soon as
I saw the baby calf, my reaction was to walk towards it and comfort
the frightened baby, but as I took a step forward, the calf tried
frantically to jump out of the "playpen". Again I realized
that there was much too much fear and pain in this barn for me to
calm. I turned around again and stepped out of the barn and into
the cold, crisp air of Norwegian winter.
Later I replayed
this terrible scene over and over in my mind. As I was thinking
about what I had seen, it struck me that the mother of that calf
must have also been in that barn, helpless to snuggle with her newborn
and helpless to comfort and protect her. Even a human like me, with
dulled senses and numb instincts, had an internal drive that pushed
me over to calm and nurture a baby experiencing its first days of
life on this planet. I wonder how the mother of this obviously frightened
calf kept from going mad as she watched her baby from across the
The next thing
that struck me was the realization that these cows were inside because
it was too cold and harsh for them outside. Well, in the northern
part of Norway, the weather is harsh and cold 9 months out of the
year. These cows lived in the barn, chained to a metal pole, for
9 months out of the year. My heart sank very low as I tried to imagine
what a life like this would be like.
I realized that this was a small farm in Norway. The conditions
appalled me. If the conditions at a small dairy farm in Norway were
this disheartening, what are the conditions like at the huge factory
farms in the US? I will let you answer this question for yourself.
altered my notions about milk profoundly. No longer do I imagine
milky white purity encased in a cardboard carton. And no longer
do I believe in "happy cows" generously providing me milk.
I remember the milk slaves that I saw chained so tightly that they
couldn't even take a step in any direction. I remember the hard
concrete on which hooves that were made for soft green Earth were
forced to stand. The face of milk has sensitive and curious eyes,
a gentle muzzle, and a chain around the neck. How can I demand so
much suffering from such an innocent creature just so I can wash
down my cookies? How can I drink milk that was meant for a small
baby just so I can satisfy the whims of my pallet? The scream of
the answer is deafening.
Kristen Walker lives in Santa Barbara, California, and recently
graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with
a BS in Computer Science. A Quality Assurance Engineer with a software
company by day, she enjoys creating art, gardening, volunteer work,
and activism of various forms in her spare time. Kristen spent last
summer volunteering at a cat shelter in Rome called Torre Argentina.
Kristen became a vegan aabout a year ago after her second trip to
Norway, when she saw the cows in the barn and realized that the
suffering involved in animal agriculture is real. She had read Joanne
Sourcebook and was thinking of going vegan, but seeing the cows
sealed her decision.
Kirsten's boyfriend, Per Blix, is Norwegian, and the dairy farmer
is his parents' next door neighbor and friend.
You can contact Kristen at firstname.lastname@example.org