Carrie Underwood is a talented musician, but animal physiologist or behaviorist she is not. She grew up on a farm in Oklahoma where she formed her somewhat misguided beliefs about animal agriculture. She’s been quoted as saying, “The worst part of the year for me was when we took some [calves] off to sell, because they would cry for each other for a couple of days. That’s why I don’t eat meat.”
At first glance, one might think she meant the cows were literally crying, for which there is extensive research to support the fact that humans are the only living beings that produce tears due to emotion. In reality, she likely meant they were “mooing” or calling to one another.
Researchers in London and Nottingham have studied and identified two diverse maternal calls used by cows and calves. A report outlined in Tech Times says, “The cows use low frequency voice to communicate with their young ones when near. When cows and their calves were separate and not in visual contact, the calls were at higher frequency and much louder.”
The researchers also claim that calves called their mothers when hungry and wanted to suckle. The study found that the calls of cows are individualized, similar to humans who have individualized voice. The scientists also indicated it is possible to recognize each calf and cow with the help of their calls.
The researchers observed free-range cattle of two herds on a Radcliffe-on-Trent farm. High sensitive digital recorders were used to record the sounds made by the cows. "The research shows for the first time that mother-offspring cattle 'calls' are individualized - each calf and cow have a characteristic and exclusive call of their own. Acoustic analysis also reveals that certain information is conveyed within the calf calls - age, but not gender," says Dr. Monica Padilla de la Torre at the University of Nottingham's School of Life Sciences, who also led the research.
So, unless Underwood is able to “speak cow,” the calls she heard were likely due to the fact that the calves were hungry for milk and the cows wanted the calves to suckle.
Underwood has also stated that her decision was based on seeing calves banded for castration when she was growing up. Early castration of bull calves is performed for a variety of reasons, as explained by Dr. Michelle Arnold, Large Ruminant Extension Veterinarian at the University of Kentucky in this 2011 article on cattlenetwork.com:
The benefits of castration for feedlot owners and those who retain ownership through the feeding phase far outweigh the negative effects and include:
1. Reduced aggressiveness and sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels
2. Decreased number of "dark cutters" due to high muscle pH
3. Higher quality grade-more consistent, marbled, and tender beef
4. Steer carcasses command higher prices at market
The article goes on to state: Several methods of castration are commonly used. The three most common castration procedures for cow-calf producers are surgical removal of the testes, banding of the scrotum with rubber bands, or crushing of the testicular chords with a burdizzo clamp. The method chosen often depends on multiple factors including the potential risk of injury to the operator, the size of the calf, the handling facilities, and experience with a certain technique.
Ryan Goodman, a rancher who writes the column, “Ask a Farmer,” says, like many, many other management decisions in raising beef, it is a decision in response to consumer demand. Consumers want a consistent, palatable, flavorful product. So, producers respond to the demand. I castrate my male calves a few hours after birth using a band method. Some producers choose to not castrate until 2 to 4 months of age using either a band or knife method.”
Dr. Hubert Karreman, a veterinarian based in Lancaster, Penn., believes there are two ways to make animal welfare assessments:
(1) Focus on the entire herd and the percent of the herd that has a problem (lameness, cleanliness, body condition, skin condition, etc.). This provides what are called “outcome oriented results” and usually identifies weaknesses in the system to correct.
(2) Focus on individual animals. This relies more on individual intent and follow through of the farmer guiding the action.
It’s true that some management practices are painful at the time they are incurred, just as they are for people (i.e. immunizations, circumcisions, stitches, etc.) but they are performed for future health benefits. It’s disappointing when personalities like Underwood use their popularity as a platform to denounce industries and practices without talking to researchers and other industry experts about why those practices are performed and how they’re constantly being improved. Two studies reported in the Journal of Animal Science, one led by Gonzalez and the other led by Repenning, have shown positive responses in feed intake, growth, and behavior when pain mitigation was incorporated.
Ranchers and veterinarians are learning more about how to mitigate pain during castration. Research presently taking place in Canada by Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Pajor, will generate science-based recommendations regarding the best age to carry out painful routine management procedures and identify target ages which may require pain mitigation. A practical method of alleviating both acute and chronic pain associated with band and knife castration in young beef calves will also be assessed and identified. The results are expected in 2018.
A recent article in Bovine Veterinarian magazine titled “Pain – no gain,” outlines U.S. research and practical application of pain mitigation during castration and dehorning.
Evidently Underwood’s commitment to a vegan lifestyle isn’t set in stone. In fact, she actually did consume dairy products while she was pregnant. Additionally, she stated in an article for self.com, that she’d never eat meat again, “but if I could raise my own cows and chickens and produce my own eggs and cheese, it would be awesome! The food would taste better, because the animals would be happy.” She must not realize the only way to get milk from those cows would be to wean those poor little calves.