Is Milking Good for Cows? The Red Hot Debate!

milking good for cows

Is milking good for cows?

Human Beings have been drinking the milk of cows for as long as they can remember. Most of us are so used to it that we might never have wondered if it is correct. Is excessive milking to meet the high demands of the dairy market actually good for cows? Do cows like being milked? What ethics should a dairy farm follow to uphold the rights of the Moo?

Think like a cow

Some animal rights activists despise the milking of cows. Their claim is that cows don’t actually like being milked and that milking is painful for them. They argue that milking a cow is just not right. An average cow produces about eight gallons of milk daily and is milked an average of 3-4 times a day. So most of their lives revolve around eating, calving, and producing milk.

There are many questions we can raise regarding this issue. Does milking hurt cows? Do they like it? What would happen to cows if they weren’t milked? Would they refuse if they had a choice? Unfortunately, the victim concerned only talks Moo, and we have no way of finding solid answers to these questions. But we can put ourselves in their shoes and try thinking like them.

To be fair, by cows, I think it’s definitely very stressful being separated from the calf they gave birth to. Part of the milking process in commercial farms involves removing the calf after it has drunk the colostrum and the milk flow begins. Calves are then fed a mixture of milk and bran, and the mother cows are milked for the market. We cannot deny that a lot of emotional and psychological pain is involved here. The cow is a mother, after all, even though an animal.

Moving on, the question of whether cows actually like being milked is pretty tough. When dairy cows have been producing milk for a while, say, for example, eight gallons a day, and if the farmer does not milk her for one day, how does the cow feel? Of course, the cow would feel that she wants to be milked because the weight of all the milk inside her would cause pain to her udders. She wants nothing but the relief that milking would give her.

Milk is always produced in the supply vs. demand ratio. The more you milk her, the more milk she produces, and the less you milk her, the less she produces. Say, you never milked her at all and let her calf nurse from her. She is now producing only milk that is sufficient for her calf. Would she then like you to milk her of the milk she produces for her baby alone? I think not.

Cows kick while being milked, especially by hand. Does this mean that it hurts them? Maybe yes. They are definitely annoyed at you intruding into their space. That could very plainly mean that they dislike it. It could be their brave efforts to stand up and fight as much as their docile natures allow. So again, does she like being milked?

Either way, you put it, it’s a tricky question. And the gist of it depends on more existential questions like, can cows feel? Can they think for themselves? Do animals have souls? What would they do if they had a choice? There are those who say that there is more cruelty in a glass of milk than there is in a cut of beef. Beef is a dead chunk on your plate, but milk? Well, it’s the bleeding of a mother that yearns for her newborn.

On the flip side

On the contrary, there are those who argue that cows like being milked and that milking is good for them. It is true that calves do not need as much milk as a cow produces or does not need milk for as long. And it is also true that in most farms, cows walk themselves to milking stations, whether they are robotic milking systems or regular electric ones.

In robotic milking stations, cows can choose when and how long they want to be milked. And in these farms, they go by themselves to the machine to be milked. Some cows milk themselves three to four times a day, and others even five to six times.

In addition, even when robotic milking machines are not available, those working in dairy farms will testify that cows dislike milking schedules being delayed. They crowd the gate when it’s time for milking and Moo in protest. Can this mean that they like being milked, or are they just trying to relieve themselves from the discomfort of a full udder?

Decide for yourself

In the end, I think it all comes down to the conditions that every cow experiences. To be fair, there are farms that are very considerate towards the welfare of cows. They are given cool and comfortable barns with fans and clean bedding and are even provided with music.

There are farms that personally love and know every cow by name and treat them like kin. Animals living here probably love sacrificing their milk for the benefit of those who care for them so well. They probably enjoy milking and the hormonal release of oxytocin that rushes in when the cow lets down and helps her relax.

Moreover, milking machines have evolved too. They no longer give discomfort to their teats and damage them. The milking machines of today are lightweight and flexible. They don’t irritate the cow. Yes, novice milking by hand can hurt them, and they could respond by kicking your bucket over. But it is up to the farmers to be gentle and milk as expertly as possible.

And providing eight gallons of milk might not be so painful for a cow, considering its size. It can definitely support that much with its build. Milking ability is proportionate to the size and weight of the cow.

Most consider the quantity of milk a cow produces as a direct indicator of her mental happiness and well-being. If a cow is unhappy, her milk flow would drop automatically. I think it makes sense because it is the same for us humans. Stress causes breastfeeding mothers to decrease in milk production. So if your cow is happily producing gallons of milk everyday, as usual, it could well be a sign that she’s happy.

But then again, there are some nasty farm conditions where cruelty to cows is the norm, and monetary benefit is the upmost motive. Hard cement floors, mastitis, udder injury, bruising due to harsh milking, unnatural bran mixes to stimulate extreme milk flow, branding cows, etc., etc., etc., the list goes on endlessly. Yes, in circumstances like that, milking is cruel. The cow is better off left alone or better slaughtered so she can be put off her misery.

And at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide. Of course, I would drink a glass of milk from a good, ethical dairy farm than from a bad one. And if my only option is the product of an unethical dairy farm, then I’d rather not drink at all. The unfortunate situation, however, is that all milk in the market tastes the same, and there is no way of identifying how the cow was feeling when lactating.


Please read this article for the best 5 dairy cow breeds for your farm.