Cows, Cows, Everywhere, and Not a Steak to Eat. What Happens if We All Become Vegan?

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Hereford calf – innocent victim of our murderous lust for meat?

I have previously blogged about the potential impact of us all becoming vegan with reference to the U.S. beef and dairy industries, but given the recent haranguing of several Twitter friends (and myself) by some very passionate vegans, I thought it was worth updating the post for the UK livestock industry.

Let me make it very clear – I am totally happy for anybody to choose whichever diet they prefer: omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian etc. No problem. I have to admit I find it interesting when people claim that they are vegetarian but that they occasionally eat meat (5% of Australians consider themselves as vegetarian but only 2% eat a meat-free diet!), but it’s great that we are able to choose from a wide variety of diets and foods. However, I get really irritated when people suggest (or insist) that I shouldn’t eat meat or fish because they believe that it’s morally wrong. Food has almost become a modern faith issue – the same intensity and fervour of 19th century missionaries trying to convert “heathens” is applied by the more activist vegetarians and vegans.

Meat-free Australia

Interestingly, every single vegan I have conversed with on Twitter appears to believe that cattle only reproduce because they are forced to by the farmer. Accusations such as the one in the tweet below are common – because artificial insemination is regularly used within the dairy industry (although a significant proportion of dairy farmers also use bulls for natural service), cows are seen to be “forced” to breed, or even “raped”.

Angry vegan

So, if we as a vegan population did not eat milk, meat or eggs and did not “enslave” or control cattle, but instead turned them out to live a natural life, would they cease to breed? It’s a nice idea, but, it’s false. If a bull has access to cows in heat, he’s going to pursue that cow, even if it means breaking into the next field. Cattle don’t breed like rabbits, but bulls are rather akin to hormonal teenagers when responsive cows are in close proximity.

Anti-animal agriculture activists often purport that a cow can live for 20+ years in her “natural” state compared to a farmed animal – so being a data nerd, I did the maths. Let’s assume that we turn all the dairy cows out tomorrow, and the following assumptions hold true: 1) cows first calve at two years of age and that 75% of cows have a calf every year*; 2) 85% of those calves survive (calf mortality would increase because we would not care for (exploit?) new-born calves); and 3) each cow or bull lives for 20 years. Admittedly that doesn’t account for the cattle that would be hit by cars, or die from starvation through lack of available grazing in 5, 10 or 20 years time, but being good vegans, we’d feed them, right?

If we all became vegan - UK


We currently have ~4.2 million dairy cattle (1.9 million dairy cows, plus calves, heifers and bulls) in the UK. Within five years we’d have 19.2 million cattle in the UK, within 20 years we’d have 285 million – a 68.6-fold increase on our current national herd. That’s 68.6x more cattle belching methane, drinking water and producing waste, every single day, all as a result of our changing our diet in a misguided attempt to reduce environmental impact.


It’s a nice, simplistic, oft-suggested argument that we shouldn’t eat meat or dairy products in order to save the planet, yet the conflict between veganism, animal welfare, and environmental impact is clear. Climate change will be solved by us turning vegan? Not unless we reconcile ourselves to killing animals without eating them.

*75% would be a low calving % on a beef or dairy farm, but let’s assume that natural service in the wild is less efficient 

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7 thoughts on “Cows, Cows, Everywhere, and Not a Steak to Eat. What Happens if We All Become Vegan?

  1. I would recommend you watch Cowspiracy, so that you can understand how currently, we are using up most of our resources to grow food for the cows we farm to eat. I can’t explain it better than the film (which is on Netflix) so you should probably watch it.

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    • Thanks for the recommendation, however I prefer to look at scientific fact. While there’s a place for every opinion, films such as Cowspiracy are not based on facts, but fiction.

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  2. That is ridiculous. Humans are the ones breeding cows. Artificially making them reproduce over and over and over again. Humans are the cause of all the problems.
    You know it, I know it.

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    • Nonsense. Read the actual post – bulls only mate with cows that are in heat and that happens naturally, just as it does with cats, dogs and all other animals. It may suit the vegan agenda to suggest that cattle only breed artificially but it is utterly untrue.

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  3. Sadly, those angry and in my opinion, B12 deficient causing serious mental problems, will never agree with science or actual fact. This is the time for “feel good, get to the moral high ground” by becoming vegan; with obviously those lacking in their own lives running to embrace this new “attraction”.

    They forget that all their ancestors were meat eaters, and that meat eating genealogy produced the person they are today. (oops – fancy having to admit your ancestors were meat eaters)

    The fact that they are militant, angry and prepared to invade/trespass famer’s property, without any thoughts as to contamination they may cause, or upsetting the stock contained on that land, leads me to call them domestic terrorists, they only believe in animal rights, not animal welfare.

    Well self righteous vegans, you are a small commodity in this big wide world, the more you carry on with your screaming and yelling, the more the general population see you as nut bags needing some chemical help.

    The world population will never turn vegan no matter how hard you try to scream your ridiculous mantra.

    Get over yourselves.

    Animal welfare, not animal rights …. all the way.

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  4. Pingback: How Now, Old Cow? Do “Slaughter-Free” Dairy Farms Come at an Unsustainable Cost? | Bovidiva

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