With continued breastfeeding, we can do without slaughter

Few people know that most dairy farms cause as many killings as meat farms: so that the milk can be collected for human consumption, the mothers give birth every year, which is given to them. hours a day, at niches » individual [1]. The young animals are fattened with reconstituted milk powder before being sent to the slaughterhouse after a few weeks [2]. As for the mothers, once their milk production capacity is exhausted by this intensive regime, they are slaughtered on average at 3 and a half years for goats, 7 years for cows, while their reliance on life is 15 to 20 years.

In this way of conceiving dairy farming, culled mothers and their children are considered by-products of the sector, bought by the industry at low prices. [3] and killed by the millions every year. A practice that also weighs on breeders: births, separation, feeding the young are particularly trying.

Calf pens on a conventional dairy farm. © Inès Léraud / Reporterre

Jean-Yves Ruelloux is a goat breeder and cheese maker in Priziac, Morbihan. He worked in a classic way for fifteen years. With the births and overwork, she gradually changed her way of working. I heard of a farmer who milked his goats for years after they gave birth once. I also have in mind the example of the wet nurses among the people, who produce one child and then nurse bourgeois babies for years, without having another child. So why not a goat? ? » Jean-Yves tries to milk some goats without giving birth to a new baby. Because of the success of the experiment, he expanded the method to his entire flock. So, since 2005, his goats give birth only once in their life and then in continuous lactation »up to twelve consecutive years.

Over time, Jean-Yves Ruelloux says he discovered many benefits to this practice:

  • the majority of veterinary interventions are caused, as in all farms, at the end of pregnancy, parturition, or rapid mastitis (infections) after parturition. The virtual disappearance of them from his herd led to significant improvements in the health of his goats and savings for the breeder. In addition, he did not have to bring children to the slaughterhouse ;
  • the herd has a higher average age than in common farms, the social relationship between the goats is long-term: the older ones can pass on their experience to the younger ones and the herd is usually calmer. ;
  • since Jean-Yves Ruelloux’s goats are no longer pregnant, they give milk all year round, even in winter. The annual milk production per goat is thus greater than a conventional farm.
The herd of Jean-Yves Ruelloux, where there are several retired goats. © Inès Léraud / Reporterre

Reduce the herd to achieve autonomy

Faced with an increase in milk, and after paying off his bank debts, Jean-Yves chose to reduce the number of his goats to fifteen. The practice of continuous milking associated with a small herd size allows him to achieve autonomy on his farm:

  • it can be milked by hand, which is healthier and more stimulating for the udders, and avoids the purchase of a milking parlor and an electric milking machine, and therefore saves additional operating costs ;
  • he feeds his goats with leaves, thistles, grass and a little wheat bran bought from his neighbor farmer and baker. ;
  • using this model, by selling his cheeses (2.60 euros each) directly at one market every week, and another every two weeks, Jean-Yves Ruelloux receives a nice net minimum wage every month, without asking for subsidies from the common agricultural policy (COVER), when many of his colleagues in the intensive model, with greater turnover, did not reach Smic at the end of the month ;
  • finally, he can keep the old goats permanently retired » until their beautiful death. My goats are dying here, quietly. They spend their retirement in the herd. Those who are close to the end have privileges: they can leave the herd and live freely in the fields. They deserved it ! They walked around as if they always lived outside, with us. Since I started working like that, I no longer feel that I am doing production, but sharing my daily life with animals and exchanging services with them. »

The amount of milk increased »

Arnaud Bignon, breeder and cheese producer at the Bois Foucray farm, in Mayenne, discovered continuous breastfeeding thanks to the testimony of Jean-Yves Ruelloux broadcast on Feet on the ground », in the culture of France in 2019. This was a relief for him, who refused to sell children at three days old – as is usually done – in an industrial fattening industry, and physically and psychologically tired to kill the themselves. even at birth. In the winter after the show, she tried continuous milking. He even replaced the rennet, replacing the coagulant of animal origin, used by most cheese makers, with rennet of vegetable origin (based on thistle) so that one of his vegetarian friends could eat his products . My cheese no longer requires the death of an animal »he is happy now.

In reality, continuous lactation does not completely exclude the farmer from confronting slaughter: in order for the goat to produce milk, it must give birth. In Jean-Yves Ruelloux, if the baby is a girl, she will be kept to join the herd. If it is a man, he himself kills and eats. However, this slaughter was exceptional, and continuous nursing allowed Jean-Yves and Arnaud to do without the slaughter.

Since 2020, the entire Arnaud Bignon herd (Poitevine goats, ewes and cows) has been running on continuous lactation, which has been successful so far: In the first year, I was afraid that milking would not continue when winter came, but in fact no, when spring came, the grass grew again, the amount of milk increased. » As for the quality of the cheese’s taste, both Arnaud and Jean-Yves have received excellent feedback from their customers.

Researchers ignore continuous lactation

The testimonies of these two breeders are important, because no academic data has been produced on continuous milking. I searched the scientific research publication sites, I found nothing on lactations longer than eighteen months. Furthermore, during an internship at Inrae [4]the researchers I met at the Rennes dairy unit [l’un des bassins laitiers les plus importants de France] unaware of this practice »said Manon Kister, a third-year student at AgroParisTech.

And add: At AgroParisTech, students are fed up high tech. For example, in animal husbandry lessons, we hear about milking robots without being led to question our relationship with animals and the indebtedness of breeders. »

Manon Kister, third year student at AgroParisTech. © Inès Léraud / Reporterre

The lack of theoretical knowledge about continuous breastfeeding is problematic, he says: This prevents you from projecting yourself, as a breeder, into this exercise, from creating a business project. To get subsidies, you have to prove that the project is viable, but you don’t have any data to show. It also creates a feeling of worry. We wonder: “I can produce so much ? To win ? For how long ?” For my part, I would have liked to settle on dairy cows in continuous milking, but as this is the absolute vacuum of knowledge, I think rather to settle on goats, by relying particularly on the experience of Jean-Yves. »

Jean-Yves Ruelloux’s testimony, however, caught the attention of some vets. His breeding is now followed by Aziliz Klapper [5], which exercises in the north of Finistère, like that of Arnaud Bignon. If the continued breastfeeding in his eyes is a response to the suffering of animals and the waste of young animals in the dairy industry, he emphasizes that it is not the only one and there are examples where children remain in the field, not fed with powdered milk or raised under the mother [6].

He also believes that continuous breastfeeding is a victim of a priori, such as fatigue for mothers, or production of poor quality milk. But there’s no indication, according to the vet, that it’s less tiring for the animals to alternate between lactation, pregnancy and calving each year. ; and tests carried out by it indicate that the milk resulting from a lactation of five or ten years will be of as good quality as that produced by a short lactation.

Veterinarian Aziliz Klapper takes samples for coprological analysis. © Inès Léraud / Reporterre

For his part, Michel Bouy, who works as a veterinarian in the Drôme, supports several farms that are experimenting with continuous milking for a year. In this program called Lactodouce, he observed the natural production of milk in goats… that had not yet become pregnant. An observation shared in two years by Robert Episse, an Ardèche goatherd who decided to breastfeed in 2020 or by Jean-Yves Ruelloux who spoke, with humor, of clean milking ». The world of dairy farming low technology perhaps just at the beginning of its discoveries.

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