Plans to send two consignments of dairy goats to China by air next month are concerning. A recent article in the Farmers Weekly states that 2500 New Zealand dairy goats will soon be off on a one-way direct flight to China costing $400 per head. They are being sent for breeding purposes.

My guess is they won’t be going, first class. Puts another whole layer of meaning onto the term ‘cattle class’.

Enough! I say back that plane up and let the goats off!

I am worried about these 2500 inquisitive, curious and highly intelligent animals. They should not simply be treated as tradeable breeding machines in a goat body.

I have a goat called Donald (not the presidential variety) who is somewhat of an intelligentsia. Granted he is not a domesticated dairy breed but don’t tell him that. And don’t get on your high horse and call him a pest species either – he wouldn’t like it. He is proudly feral and a survivor after his mother was shot dead.

Donald is a deeply handsome_ thinking and feeling individual full of character – like all goats. Photo credit Jinki Cambronero.

Donald free ranges on two acres, picking apart fences with his nimble mouth and sometimes drifting into the neighbour’s paddocks full of purple clover. He loves to follow us and our pet steer Harry (not the royal variety) around, resting his head against us when we pause. When Donald and Harry are not butting heads, they are resting sweetly on the grass.

Donald and Harry. Photo credit Jinki Cambronero.

The scene in our paddock is rather idyllic and pastoral, conjuring up notions of small family farms. For Donald and Harry, this may be their reality, given that they are promised a lifetime of love and care. But for most other goats and bovines in New Zealand and China, the situation is somewhat different.

Donald butting Harry. Photo credit Jinki Cambronero.

Dairy = death on a mass scale – for cows AND goats

Goats are farmed in New Zealand for their milk, meat and fibre.  A report by Massey University in 2017 stated that farming goats for dairy are a growing industry in New Zealand. Particularly lucrative markets are infant formula in Asia. There are an estimated 66,100 dairy goats in New Zealand from 99 farms.

Goat milk farms in New Zealand and China are transforming into large-scale operations. In New Zealand, large sheds house anywhere between 700 and 6000 goats.  In China, the scale is even larger with some farms housing 10,000 goats.

These large-scale systems do not allow goats to selectively browse and so they deny them a natural environment of elevation and hiding spaces. Their natural instincts and behaviours are thwarted. It must be incredibly frustrating for them.

Many large-scale farms in China are also heavily mechanised, with one farm developing facial recognition technology for goats using cameras that differentiate their features. This gives farmers a quick overview of their characteristics, body shape and exercise patterns. The cameras may also recognise signs of disease. Obviously, this has benefits in terms of welfare, but it has somewhat dystopian overtones.

Goats are highly individual, and their natural environment (in the wild without shed doors) is full of opportunities to explore and play and form bonds with others. In large-scale farms, goats get reduced to nothing but a number to be recorded by some technologically advanced system. They are all living in an unstimulating environment characterised by boring sameness.

This scenario has shades of ‘A Handmaids Tale’ to it – the enslavement of the female body and her reproductive capacities for personal gain and profit.

And what about the kids? On dairy goat farms in New Zealand does average two kids each year. Farm replacement rates are 10-20% for milking does and 5% for bucks. Kids who are not wanted for replacement are slaughtered when very young. Exactly how this occurs in New Zealand and China is not clear. In New Zealand there are no welfare laws around this in the Code of Welfare: Goats put out by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

In England an undercover investigation by Animal Justice Project (AJP) captured video of the killing of surplus baby goats on a 1000-head dairy goat farm. “The video shows newborn goats as young as one and two days old being shot with a stun gun before having a metal rod inserted into their forehead to end their life. Other goats appear to be watching as this was carried out”.

New Zealand should not be put on a pedestal

In these circumstances, human beings become monstrous in their deeds. Word of mouth in New Zealand is that young kids have their heads slammed onto concrete to render them insensible before killing them.

Let’s be clear where I stand on this. The only appetite for goat milk should be that experienced by newborn and young kids (of the goat kind).

Goats will only produce milk once they have given birth to a kid. This is the same for all mammals including cows, elephants, zebras, dogs, cats, mice, dolphins and humans. Milk is produced to nourish and feed the young until they are adult enough to become independent of their mother.

It would appear there is not enough adulting going on with humans globally as we are intent on exploiting other mammals for their milk.

Here is the monstrous part of this whole process. In order to obtain the milk of another mammal species we must remove the infant for whom the milk was intended. New Zealand routinely kills 1.8 million unwanted calves every year for the purpose of milking their mothers. The statistics for goats are less clear, given that they are killed on farms through blunt force trauma such as slamming their heads onto concrete floors.

The animal welfare laws in New Zealand are considered of a high standard and yet young kids can be bludgeoned to death upon birth.

Frankly, I am not a welfarist. I am an abolitionist, which means I think we should abolish all animal farming – whether in China or New Zealand.  I don’t think New Zealand should be put on a pedestal for its animal welfare standards as they are insufficient to protect animals. I think we should just leave animals alone and not farm them to death.

New Zealand’s welfare laws don’t protect animals nearly enough in our major industries such as dairying. The Farmwatch expose in 2015 of calves being bludgeoned to death and thrown around on concrete floors should have illustrated that.

All this bludgeoning of baby animals leaves a bad taste in my mouth which is why I am vegan.

We have to be better than this. Demand the end of live export in all its forms. Consider going to bat for animals and eating a plant-based diet.

Lynley Tulloch (PhD) is an animal rights activist and writer. She lectures in the field of education and her research spans a range of subjects including social justice, human-animal relations, education and activism. Lynley runs the Starfish Bobby Calf Project which is an animal rights advocacy and rescue group for bobby calves.