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In recent years, cows have been intensively selectively bred for their meat and milk in order for farmers to gain higher profits. According to a research team at the University of Wisconsin- Madison has discovered that selectively breeding for cattle with lower feed and high output would “save farmers about $21 million per year in feed costs.” The cost efficiency of this situation has encouraged this increasingly popular “common breeding philosophy” for breeders to make their businesses more profitable. However, the severe selectively breeding of cows creates a series of implications relating to the health and survival of these individuals.
Breeding cows for high output gravely obstructs their health and drastically decreases their quality of life and lifespan. According to recent studies, a cow in the UK will on average, have around three lactations before she is killed due to health or infertility issues, in contrast to the longevity potential of ten lactations. Primarily, high intensity breeding of cows may lead to life threatening diseases such as Dystocia (incomplete cervical dilation) which is abnormal birth and labour due to the narrow birth canal caused by the force of dramatic muscle growth. This not only may cause death to the calf due to low oxygen levels, but can dangerously threaten the life of the mother as well. According to the European Journal of Biological Sciences, “although dystocia cannot be eliminated from a herd; the incidence can be greatly reduced by management decisions made before the breeding season” meaning that the selective breeding schemes should take extra care before any action as the occurrence of dystocia can be reduced with caution.
Another effect is the environment and dietary issues impacting cows as new “zero grazing” plans means damaging disruptions for herds. To bulk the cows up and sustain high level output, farmers will use an unnatural grain diet or genetically engineered foods as feed which can harm a ruminant organism’s digestive system and lead to an increase of acid in the rumen with the likelihood of stomach diseases.
Furthermore, typically, cows should be kept outside grazing on pasture and only brought inside for the colder winter season to be fed hay. However, the “zero grazing” scheme has encouraged farmers to keep there cows indoors for the whole year, affecting the cows’ normal movement and behaviour. They are housed in tight cubicles with concrete floors painful to walk on, which compared to soft pasture, has a higher potential of damaging their feet. The lack of fresh air in a compact environment may also cause a surplus of moisture, increasing risk of infection.
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