The Lives Of Breeding Bulls In India
India has the world’s largest number of cows. Unfortunately, despite media portrayals, they’re not peacefully wandering the city streets or ambling through the countryside. Since 2014, India has been one of the world’s largest exporters of cow meat (“beef”), sometimes even surpassing Brazil. Indeed, these two countries now account for almost 40% of the world’s cow meat exports. Furthermore, India is now the largest milk producer across the globe, outranking the E.U., the U.S., and China. Farming animals used for food is now inextricably linked to human-caused climate change, and India is extremely vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. The vast population of cows in India makes them the number one source of methane globally. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, India’s animal agriculture industry presents a significant threat both internally and externally.
To expand its cow herds, India maintains a large national breeding program. Semen extracted from bulls inseminates many more cows than could occur naturally. This allows the bulls with the best genetics for milk production to spread their traits more widely. This study examines the industry of “sperm farming” and frozen semen technology. Data was collected in three stages between 2014 and 2016. The first stage was a review of documents including: (1) literature on the process for bovine sperm extraction, storage and artificial insemination along with national and international policies on climate change; (2) Indian and international laws on animal cruelties; and (3) literature on animal rights and speciesism. Using this data, the researchers identified cruel practices and where legislation addressed such inhumane treatment.
During the second stage, researchers conducted 10 semi-structured interviews with people involved in semen production, industry policy, and animal protection. Questions covered the process of semen extraction, animal cruelty, and Indian agriculture policy. The third stage involved direct observation on two state-owned semen stations in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra states. At one station, researchers saw firsthand the process of semen extraction, quality assessment, storage, and transportation to other farms. There, the semen would be used to artificially inseminate (AI) cows in estrus. In natural breeding, one ejaculation produces one or two calves at most. A single semen extraction combined with AI can produce hundreds of calves since the ejaculate is divided into amounts just sufficient to ensure conception. About 80% of India’s commercial dairy cows are impregnated using AI.
Indians are increasingly outraged about the abuse of dairy cows and male calves. However, most are unaware of the cruelties of sperm farming. Bulls live either singly or in small groups in barns with little space and no environmental stimulation. They become bored, frustrated, and agitated. Even worse are systems that confine bulls to tethers wound through their noses. Each bull goes to the semen extraction center twice a day, four days each week. There, they mount a dummy cow and ejaculate into an artificial, temperature-controlled vagina. Bulls that won’t or can’t perform undergo the painful process of electro-ejaculation. This procedure uses a 12-24-volt jolt of electricity applied through a probe in the rectum. After about 10 years, the bulls’ semen quality starts to decline, and most are then sent to slaughter.
Despite this ongoing cruelty, India is well placed to end these inhumane practices. The Hindu ethic reveres the cow as sacred, and this ethic still guides much of Indian society. Also, India is unique in that it has already created some legal protections for cows — unfortunately, these laws only apply to slaughter and meat production, rather than requiring compassionate treatment throughout the cow’s life. Yet this combination of existing laws and societal ethics could provide the moral underpinnings that lead to the abolishment of all forms of animal husbandry. India has come close to outlawing the slaughter of cows, perhaps closer than any other nation. As a result, animal advocates have a tremendous opportunity here. They can use the public’s sympathy for cows as a springboard for a broader animal rights movement that not only safeguards animals but improves the health of the global environment as well.