No Green Meadows for the ‘Übercow’ of Today

The picture¹ above is, for German documentary photographer Nikita Teryoshin,
“A symbol of human control over cows – how we can look into the cow and see everything.
“I wanted to update the old-fashioned image of a cow in a green meadow that we know from ads and milk packages. To show the dystopian side of milk production.”

The images in Teryoshin’s book Hornless Heritage express the shock he felt visiting the EuroTier agricultural fair in Hanover, a shock which prompted his 4-year scrutiny of this industry in his home country, and was the impetus for his book.

At the centre of the dairy industry is, of course, the cow. A cow falls into the zoological class of Mammalia. And the dictionary definition of the word “Mammal” is:

Any of a class (Mammalia) of warm-blooded higher vertebrates that nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands

“That nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands” – the way Nature intended. But nothing about the German dairy industry bears much relation to Nature. Indeed, today’s dairy production practically all over in the world is so far from the storybook idyll of contented cows grazing in flower-filled meadows with the sun on their backs – the image the industry wants us to believe – that there surely must be a case for referring dairy product ads everywhere to their countries’ equivalents of our Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds of “false or deceptive messages”.²

What does the image below look like to you? What it doesn’t look like to me is a farm. But then, it doesn’t actually lay claim to that name. It calls itself an ‘automated dairy facility’, and is certainly closer to a factory than how most people imagine a farm.

_hornless heritage_nikita teryoshin_05
Model of a state-of-the-art automated dairy facility at the EuroTier trade fair in Hanover, Germany. Nikita Teryoshin

This is journalist Laura Mallone describing Teryoshin’s experience of the EuroTier fair, “The crowds gawked at the latest in animal husbandry, including a Matrix-like robot that suckled a fake cow. But what struck Teryoshin most was an ad that read, 

‘Don’t let cows waste your money’

“‘It seemed impossible that you could think that a cow is wasting your money when you’re already taking everything away from it,” he says.”
_hornless heritage_nikita teryoshin_11
Presentation of a hoof trimming chute at the EuroTier trade fair in Hanover, Germany.Nikita Teryoshin

That prompted him to begin Hornless Heritage. Teryoshin visited farms, insemination stations, laboratories, auctions and even a Best in Show, where owners primped their Holsteins and paraded them before a crowd. He got an up-close glimpse of seemingly happy cows like Lady Gaga—a black-and-white Holstein that’s won bovine beauty pageants—as well as clearly unhappy ones, such as those with bloodied legs he saw on a factory farm. He documented everything with a Nikon D800 and hand-held flash, illuminating the mundane horror of an industry where animals are reduced to commodities.

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Artificial insemination. Nikita Teryoshin

‘German’ : ‘Efficiency’. Two words forever joined at the hip. Teryoshin witnessed the essence of ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ (progress through technology) applied to cows exactly as to cars. Maximising profit by reducing living animals to nothing more than milk-producing machines, their natural needs only being met as far as they further that end.

hornless heritage_nikita teryoshin_16-1
Model of a milking rotary at the EuroTier trade fair in Hanover, Germany. Nikita Teryoshin

Teryoshin writes, Also known as ‘turbo cows’, German dairy breeds, like German cars, are very popular all over the world because of their performance and reliability. Thanks to computer technologies in the last decades German scientists got millions of breeding values together and a knowledge about the genomic code, which allows them to design the ‘Übercow’ with up to four times higher milk output, and even the horns disappearing,”

_hornless heritage_nikita teryoshin_4
Based in Verden, the company VIT maintains data for millions of cattle in Europe. These numbers show the full genome of a cow. Nikita Teryoshin

In evolution, “horns mean for a cow protection and autonomy. They are even important for the milk performance and overall condition of the animal. For life in huge fully automated farms with hundreds of cows, horns are too dangerous. After decades of painful dehorning of cattle with a branding iron, German breeders and scientists in the future will produce cows hornless by birth yet with the same milk performance.” 

Germany’s dairy facts

  • Germany is the EU’s biggest milk producer
  • The country has 4.2 million cows
  • Today, farmers use genomic selection to design ever-more-profitable ‘turbo’ cows that can produce more than 88,000 pounds of milk in their lifetimes
_hornless heritage_nikita teryoshin_7
These servers sit in the basement of the VIT center in Verden, Germany. They contain genomic information about millions of bulls and cows. Nikita Teryoshin
  • Cows used to live about 20 years. Now they end up canned and packaged in the pet food aisle of supermarkets before the age of 5, sent to slaughter because of lameness, infertility or mastitis
  • Such are the miracles of technology, in a life lasting only a quarter of the time of her great-great-great grandmother’s, a German cow can now be made to produce at least double and up to 4 times as much milk
  • In 2018, Germany produced from its ‘turbo cows’ 8.6 billion gallons – enough for 104 gallons/473 litres per person – in one year. About 1.3 litres per person per day – milk Nature intended for the nurture of these mothers’ babies, which have been taken from them.
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A farmer spray paints a cow before an auction in Krefeld, Germany. Nikita Teryoshin

“’I stopped drinking milk and eating dairy for a while,’ Teryoshin says. His photographs might make you lose your appetite for the stuff, too.”

Only for a while, Nikita? What a shame. How desperately sad that you should so readily forget the shock you experienced peeling away the dairy industry’s green pastures fantasy to uncover the technologised nightmare beneath – the pitiful existence of a mammal mother, intended only by Nature to suckle her own, that is today’s Übercow.

Yes, we can indeed “look into her and see everthing”. Everything that is except the one thing that matters – her soul.

**************

infographic PETA dairy cows cruelty suffering

It’s not too late to join the Veganuary movement and discover simple and tasty ways to eat dairy-free

And everything you ever need to know (well, almost!) about going vegan here

You can see more of Hornless Heritage here

Related posts

Dairy in Decline? It’s Not That Black & White

Mountains of Milk, Lakes of Cheese, & What We Can Do About It

Why Cows Need Their Friends

A Cow Named ‘Spirit’

Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for Sustainability & the Planet?

Source

Capturing the Everyday Horror of Dairy Farming in Germany

¹The photo depicts the Free University of Berlin’s anatomical model of this animal. 

²Marketing and Advertising: the law

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