How Veal Crates Are Used in Factory Farms

A Holstein dairy calf in a hutch at a dairy
Jeff Carroll / Getty Images

One of the biggest arguments made by non-vegetarians is that dairy is not harmful to the animals since the animal does not need to be killed for dairy products. But to animal-rights activists, stealing milk right from the mother's breasts from a baby anything is despicable. Should we deny a baby the nutrition he needs to grow just so humans can drink it and get fat and laden with cholesterol?

Veal in the Dairy Industry

That's not the worst of it. Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry. Like all mammals, female cows must be kept constantly pregnant in order to lactate. In a process called "freshening," female cows, called "wet cows" after giving birth, are kept unnaturally lactating to maximize their milk production. Male calves are taken from their mothers at birth because they are not useful for milk production. These calves are turned into veal. Some female calves are also turned into veal because they are not needed for dairy production. The excess dairy calves are the wrong breed to be useful for beef production, so they are usually slaughtered for veal when they are between 8 and 16 weeks old. 

Why Veal Production and Crates Are Controversial

Veal crates are used in factory farming to confine dairy calves. The calves are chained and do not have enough room to move or turn around in a crate that measures 22 by 54 inches.

Veal production is controversial because many people regard the extreme confinement as excessively cruel. The crates are so small, the animals cannot turn around. This keeps their muscles soft and unused which produces the pale, anemic meat consumers demand. Also, the calves are fed a synthetic formula instead of their mothers’ milk, this formula lacks iron, and causes a variety of health problems. Water is withheld so the calves will crave the formula. The formula has a laxative effect, so the calves are plagued with diarrhea which not only causes painful cramping, but also serious rashes down their legs where the fecal matter, which contains stomach acid in it, burns their skin. Their rectums are also painful, burning and swollen.

The method whereby veal is created is so cruel, that many enlightened non-vegetarians have sworn off veal completely because they know they could never enjoy a meal when the animal on their plates suffered intensely. 

To add insult to injury, cows are associated with motherhood because they are more doting on their babies than a Jewish mom with her son. Cows have been spotted with tears running down their faces when they hear their calves crying for their mothers. 

While some animal advocates work to ban the use of veal crates, the slaughter of any animal for food is antithetical to animal rights, regardless of how much room the animals have when they are alive.

Examples of Anti-Veal Crate Initiatives

California's Prop 2, a ballot initiative that was approved by California voters in 2008, banned the use of veal crates and took effect in 2015. The Animal Law Resource Center proposed a model bill and presents a history of legislation addressing veal crates.

Edited by Michelle A. Rivera, Animal Expert