The Calf at Foot Dairy and Happy Exploitation: “They produce better quality stuff for us to eat.”

Animals are chattel property. It costs money to protect their interests. Animal exploiters, as rational actors, will generally protect animal interests to the extent that it is economically efficient to do so. That will, for the most part, result in very low standards of animal welfare.

There are three ways to increase the level of protection accorded to animal interests:

1. Persuade government to impose higher standards–this is an option that will be opposed by industry and by many voters. It almost never works and when it does, it is almost always nothing more than a market correction. For example, in 1958, the U.S. government required that large animals be stunned before being slaughtered in order to reduce carcass damage and worker injuries. Industry went along because it was economically beneficial to do so.

2. Persuade industry that its present standards are not economically efficient and that adopting different standards would be economically beneficial. In recent years, animal welfare groups have been pursuing this approach. For example, PETA and HSUS promote the “controlled-atmosphere killing” (gassing) of poultry on the ground that it will be a more economically efficient way to process chicken. This approach puts “animal advocates” in the role of working with industry to identify inefficiencies in institutionalized exploitation.

3. Develop niche markets where more affluent people will pay a higher price for supposedly more “happy” products. This is the “happy exploitation” approach.

There are two primary reasons why some consumers will pay more for “happy” products. First, they feel better about consuming animals if they can convince themselves they are consuming “compassionately”–and “animal advocates” will be happy to pat them on the back and encourage their “compassionate” consumption as they ask for a donation. Second, many consumers feel that “happy” products are better tasting and more healthful.

Those who promote this third approach claim that their business is not about business at all. They often portray “happy exploitation” as morally sound and environmentally beneficial. But, as I have explained before, that is nonsense.

It’s about business. It’s about speciesism. It’s about injustice.

I recently encountered an excellent example of a “happy” exploitation producer that illustrates the problems.

Cows Are Allowed to Keep Their Calves But “The Boys” Are Taken to the Slaughterhouse at Age 2

The Calf at Foot Dairy is located in Suffolk, England.

“Calf at foot.” Sounds ever so reassuring, doesn’t it? It conjures up the image that this is a lovely place, where cows and their calves stay together, and no one dies except of old age. It’s a “happy” dairy for real. It’s not a place where you’d expect slaughter. Here’s the home page of the website for the dairy:

When you go to the Facebook page for this dairy, you see, prominently placed, the following:

But, alas, it’s not as it seems.

In a Facebook exchange, the owner of the dairy, Fiona Provan, said that she takes “the boys” to the slaughterhouse at about 2 years of age. She sells them as her special brand of beef.

And when I explored the site, I found this on one of the pages (after being told on the home page that cows are allowed to keep their calves):

What? “The boys” are slaughtered at age 2? But how is that consistent with saying that the “cows are allowed to keep their calves?” I was puzzled.

I inquired. Fiona told me that when they’re slaughtered at age 2, they’re not calves any more. They’re bulls.

Now I must admit that this struck me as similar to saying that the statement, “human moms are allowed to keep their children” is true even if we kill the children at age 18 because at 18, they’re fully grown adults.”

And then I saw this:

So if they were killed at “about a year old,” were they still “calves”? Or were they “pre-bulls”? I was confused.

But Fiona clarified it. It seems that she was upset because she was “under attack from some very hostile vegans.” She made a mistake and she reiterated that she didn’t kill “the boys” until they were 2.

A supporter of hers, Robert Rose, who owns a “happy” meat facility called Rosewood Farms, chimed in to help me through my confusion. He stated:

Fiona keeps the male calves, or whatever you personally choose to call them, with the cows for the first 12 months. She kills them for beef at 2 years.

Okay, so let’s recap: “Cows are allowed to keep their calves” means that cows stay with their calves for a year and then they are separated and the males are killed at age 2. Fiona takes them to the slaughterhouse herself because she is concerned about their welfare.

That’s certainly interesting. I have to admit that I would never have gotten that from the statement “cows are allowed to keep their calves.” But that’s apparently a result of my limitation in understanding the subtleties of the English language.

So what is going on here? I think the best answer was supplied by Linda McKenzie in a comment on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page:

It’s obvious that the statement by Provan that “cows are allowed to keep their calves” is intended as chloroform to anaesthetise customers into a sense of false security regarding the morality of their purchases on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. Vendor and customer alike get to carry on exploiting while telling themselves, and reflecting back to each other, that they are doing the right thing. It’s only when those pesky abolitionists come along and ask inconvenient questions that the bubble is punctured and the lies are exposed. And the more Fiona and her fellow “happy” exploitation farmers talk to try to justify what they do, the bigger the hole they dig for themselves, confirming most graphically our critique of the morally bankrupt nature of welfarism.

An “Attack” or a Challenge?

As for Fiona’s claim of being “under attack from some very hostile vegans,” I think that’s a bit hyperbolic on her part. She was being criticized. She was being challenged. But being criticized and challenged is different from being attacked. That is why we have different words for these ideas. For example, here is a question I asked her:

Fiona, I have a simple question. If, as is clearly the case, humans do not need milk or meat for nutritional reasons, how can we justify exploiting nonhumans for milk or meat? In doing so, we are engaging in the imposition of unnecessary suffering and death, which is clearly morally wrong. You don’t even need a rights approach to see the problem here—the imposition of suffering and death is gratuitous if the only justification is palate pleasure or habit. What are your thoughts here?

Here’s a screenshot of my question:

I never got an answer because she blocked me after I posted this.

Animal Agriculture Will Save the Planet; Veganism Will Destroy It

It was also interesting to have Fiona and her friends tell us that they were in favor of eating meat and drinking milk because world veganism would result in environmental disaster. All of this time, I thought that the opposite was true–that animal agriculture was an ecological disaster and that if we all ate plants, there would be fewer acres under cultivation, less topsoil depletion, less water pollution, less methane gas contributing to global warming, and fewer unintended and incidental deaths of animals as a result of planting and harvesting. But Fiona and her friends told me that I was just plain wrong. Contrary to what I thought, Fiona said:

I come from a vegan perspective but I know the planet cannot sustain a population of vegans.

I know that you are probably thinking that no one could say such a thing with a straight face. But Fiona did, indeed, state exactly that:

When I pointed out that if we were all vegans and ate the crops directly, we’d have to produce fewer crops, one of Fiona’s supporters, accused me of promoting “crap”:

Indeed, one of Fiona’s supporters told us that “we keep the cows to feed the vegans.” No kidding:

Fiona appears to take great pleasure in getting people who might be inclined to go vegan not to go vegan:

But I guess that is to be expected given that Fiona sees veganism as a threat to the planet. She apparently sees every non-vegan as an ecological warrior.

I must confess that this was all news to me. I wondered what scientific genius has discovered what everyone else had missed. So I went to the Calf at Foot Facebook page (I had already been blocked from Fiona’s page), and I saw a number of references to someone named named Allan Savory, who holds a bachelor’s degree in botany and biology and was a former Rhodesian game officer and soldier who claims, based on a paucity of evidence, that we will save the world by eating more meat, and who compares himself to Galileo.

To maintain that animal agriculture will save the earth and that the planet could never support widespread veganism is akin to belief that the earth is flat.

“Happy” Exploitation: It Produces Better “Stuff”

Interestingly, Fiona acknowledges that “happy exploitation” is also about producing what is marketed as a different product: one that tastes better. She says:

The whole point is we disassociate ourselves from the conventional dairies this is the whole point in setting up The Calf at Foot Dairy to show the animals do not have to be treated as units or commodities but if treated as sentient beings they produce better quality stuff for us to eat.

Here’s a screenshot of that:

In other words, Fiona is serving a market. And her supposedly better treatment of the animals makes for a better product that she can sell to the market of affluent altruists who are willing to pay more in order to feel comfortable about continuing to consume animal products. Fiona thinks that she’s not treating animals as commodities but that is patently wrong and betrayed by her own words: they are just commodities in a different business–the business of “happy exploitation.” She treats them better and they produce “better quality stuff.” This is certainly not a recognition that animals have inherent moral; they are still being treated as commodities and producers of commodities. They are still things.

Betraying Trust

One of the most disconcerting aspects of dealing with Fiona and her friends was that they seemed to think that their encouraging relationships of trust with animals they exploit is a moral virtue. One of the more vocal defenders of Fiona–the person who said that “we keep the cows to feed the vegans”–apparently had a cow named Bumble. On the public portion of her Facebook page, there is a picture of this person with Bumble. Some of her friends identified Bumble and they asked about her. Bumble, it seems, was “in the freezer.” And she was “upsettingly delicious.”

Fiona apparently thinks that having a personal relationship with animals somehow mitigates the moral wrongness of exploiting and killing them:

I disagree. I think that it is profoundly sad that anyone sees betraying trust as something morally good.

Sorry, Fiona, in the end, and for all of your moralizing, the animals are, in your words, nothing more than “stuff.”


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism that you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers University

©2017 Gary L. Francione