This project is a multispecies investigation and reflection on the ways in which human machines and technologies interrupt natural animal technologies, within the context of the dairy industry.
By Chloe Karnezi
This interactive audiovisual performance was created using the Max/MSP/Jitter software. I was able to manipulate the sonic and visual elements with the use of Open Sound Control (OSC), by tilting my phone along the x and y axes. This performance was created in response to the ongoing issue of the mistreatment of cattle and other non-human animals in the context of intensive animal farming. The audio used is ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (1971) by poet and jazz singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron.
Scholar and clergyman William Ralph Inge had raised his concerns about humans’ mistreatment of non-human animals as early as the 19th century. “We have [...] treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form,” is a famous quote attributed to him. Nowhere is this imbalance of power more evident than in the context of industrial animal farming.
“Animals have been reduced to mere appendages of computers and machines,” writes Dutch philosopher Barbara Noske (1989). This essay is a multispecies investigation and reflection on the ways in which human machines and technologies interrupt natural animal technologies, within the context of the dairy industry.
Ecofeminist scholar Donna Haraway captures the essence of multispecies storytelling in her book, ‘Staying With The Trouble,’ (2016) in which she describes the relationship between species on our planet as a game of string figures:
Playing games of string figures is about giving and receiving patterns, dropping threads and failing but sometimes finding something that works, something consequential and maybe even beautiful, that wasn’t there before, of relaying connections that matter, of telling stories in hand upon hand, digit upon digit, attachment site upon attachment site, to craft conditions for finite flourishing on terra, on earth.
This intricate entanglement between all species and elements is at the core of multispecies storytelling, which argues for the decentralisation of humans from the broader story of life on Earth.
A multispecies approach to the topic of dairy farming is necessitated by a term Noske coins in her 1989 book, ‘Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Other Animals,’: the animal - industrial complex. The concept is used to describe the industries and institutions which assume that non-human animals are commodities for human consumption, and by extent perpetuate institutionalised animal exploitation and Anthropocentrism.
Noske’s initial statement about animals having been “reduced to mere appendages of computers and machines” ties into Haraway’s quotation on species as string figures. If we broaden the term multispecies to include machines, as well as animal species, the entanglement between machines and cattle within the context of dairy farming runs deep. At a time when the delicate balance between these string figures has been lost, it is imperative to attempt to shed light on the imbalance and the need to restore the rightful position of cows in the web of string figures.
What is meant by the term “technology” in this context? I will be referring to two different types in this essay. The first is perhaps the most obvious one that comes to mind when thinking about dairy farming: the man-made machines, such as the milking machine. The second type is spoken about by anthropologist Anna Tsing:
A cow can eat grass and digest it and turn it into meat and milk and we can’t digest grass. We aren’t capable of digesting it so the cow is a technology for the digestion of grass, that turns it into a food substance for humans. In that sense, an animal can be a technology.
Rather than assume that the cow itself is a grass-digesting technology for the purpose of human meat and milk consumption, this essay treats the digestion of grass and other metabolic and natural processes as technologies which benefit the cow itself.
In the case of milking systems for cows, humans and man-made technologies interrupt the natural animal technology of cow-to-calf breastfeeding. The animal technologies at play here include the cow’s production of the milk for her calf, the calf’s growth and development as a result of breastfeeding, as well as the bond that develops between the two. In emotional terms, the bond between a cow and its calf is not unlike that between a human mother and child. In ‘The Effect of Nursing on the Cow-Calf Bond,’ researchers describe the bond between cows and their calves as “preferential mutual, affectionate, emotional attachment” (Føske Johnsen, 2015). In nature, cows breastfeed their calves for 7 to 10 months, before gradually weaning them (Reinhardt and Reinhardt, 1981). In order for farm owners to fully take advantage of the milk produced by cows and turn it into a product for human consumption, they interrupt this natural technology just weeks into the calves’ lives, when they are still dependent on the milk of their mothers for nutrition and growth.
Farmers then go on to insert their own technologies into the one they have interrupted. In order to combat the weak, underdeveloped immune system of calves, which comes as a result of weaning too early or even not ever having breastfed, the calves are vaccinated in order to “develop a total immune response” (Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., 2013). The cow’s milk production is forced to shift purpose: it is now for humans. Farmers take the cows’ milk using milking systems. Milking systems can be distinguished into two types: Conventional Milking Systems (CMS) and Automatic Milking Systems (AMS). CMS make up the majority of milking systems. They are composed of “a pump to remove air from the vacuum pipeline, a vacuum regulator and a container to collect the milk that comes into the teatcup assembly during milking” (FAO, 1989). The teatcups need to be attached to the cow’s udder manually, therefore human supervision is necessary. As CMS pinch the teat, milking is often painful for the cow and may result in swelling, tearing, and scarring of the udder. Bacteria may also form in the teat canal and sinus, causing mastitis infections (CoPulsation™, 2011).
Automatic milking systems don’t require supervision. They are employed substantially less than conventional milking systems, but their numbers are increasing. As of recently, there were about “8000 commercial farms using one or more AMS to milk their cows” (de Koning, 2010). In ‘Training methods for introducing cows to a pasture-based automatic milking system,’ Jago and Kerrisk explain the functionality of AMS, the process of training cows to voluntarily use them, and assess the results. “The AMS can perform the tasks of cow identification, supplementary feeding, teat washing, establishing teat location, milking cup attachment, milking and cup removal all without human intervention,” they write (Jago and Kerrisk, 2011).
Without constant supervision of the milking process, AMS poses threats to the cow’s health. Malfunctions in the machinery may go undetected, and a lack of maintenance leads to poor conditions. Poor conditions of machinery and poor adjustment of AMS (as well as CMS) teat cups lead to pain and teat damage for cows.
Cows have also reportedly displayed emotional distress during the use of AMS. During a study of cows while they were being trained to use AMS, “one in five animals displayed flight behaviour and tried to exit the AMS during milking”. They “became agitated when the robotic arm moved underneath them. This experience was likely associated with elevated fear or stress” due to exposure to the noises and mechanical movement of the AMS (Andrews et al. 2016).
When comparing the milking apparatus that is applied directly to the cow’s udder in today’s industry, its design has changed startlingly little since 1860, when Lee Colvin invented the first milking machine. Their design is aimed at maximising yield and profit, minimising cost, whilst disregarding animal comfort for the most part. But a multispecies approach dictates that no one animal be above another and every exchange be equal. We must, then, ask ourselves what the cow gets out of this exchange. When a cow is not milked frequently enough, her udder fills with milk to a painful extent. Milking, then, provides a physical relief. Ideally, however, it would have been her calf who took that burden off her.
The way dairy farming is evolving demonstrates a tendency for farmers to want to be increasingly less involved with milking in a hands-on way. Does the future hold AMS which can detect and prevent these issues themselves? We must consider what the implications of this are in the long run: it seems clear that the more humans distance themselves from the lives and experiences of the cows, the less likely they are to take ownership and responsibility for the sufferings of the animals. This is a widespread phenomenon even amongst animal product consumers themselves. It is probable that considerably less people would consume meat, for example, if they themselves had to slaughter the animal. In part this is because of the effort involved, but to an extent it is because this process would force us to recognise our role in the death of the animal. Despite being aware (to a varying degree) of the extent of mistreatment and abuse suffered by animals from within the confines of the animal agriculture industry, and despite calling ourselves animal-lovers who would not wish suffering on any animal, we find it easy to repress our cognitive dissonance at the prospect of consuming the products that are a result of this mistreatment, based on the knowledge that this is happening somewhere very geographically remote from us.
Another psychological phenomenon at play here is “diffusion of responsibility”. The term was introduced by researchers John Darley and Bibb Latané in a 1968 paper titled ‘Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility.’ It typically describes the phenomenon where, in emergency situations, people are less likely to get involved and help when there are others present who, like them, could assist in the emergency instead. This principle can be applied to the behaviour of farm workers: when animal agriculture is on a mass scale, it requires multiple workers doing the same, or similar jobs. Being surrounded by others who engage in the same ethically dubious behaviour makes one less likely to become a whistleblower or even question their behaviour at all. With so many others participating in keeping the animal agriculture industry operating, it becomes normalised. This rule applies not only to those working in farms, but also to those who buy and consume animal products alongside millions of other people.
Professors of psychology Paul Slovic and Daniel Västfjäll point to another characteristic of human psychology which can be linked to our lack of sensitivity relating to animal welfare. In their paper, “The More Who Die, the Less We Care: Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” they suggest that we, as people, fail to understand and emotionally engage with statistics and large numbers. They argue that we are more likely to aid a single individual in need, but do not respond as well and helpfully to news of mass murder: “As numbers get larger and larger, we become insensitive; numbers fail to trigger the emotion or feeling necessary to motivate action” (Slovic, Västfjäll, 2015). This could explain the lack of sensitivity shown in response to the mass abuse animals undergo in farms across the world.
The world of animal agriculture, then, is a fragmented one. Inside factories, each worker is responsible for a machine, or a process- a small fragment of what happens to each farm animal. This ties into Marx’s “Division of Labour and Manufacture” principle, which he introduces in ‘Das Kapital’. He details how each worker specialises in one task in the workforce, and gives the famous example of the chair: one person cuts the wood, another puts the parts together, another paints the chair. As such, no one person is responsible for the chair. If we extend this principle to include workers in animal agriculture, the implications are dangerous: if a person is never entirely responsible for the fate of an animal, it is unlikely that they would take that responsibility. In ‘Das Kapital,’ Marx also argues that “the capitalistic form of [the] industry reproduces this same division of labour in a still more monstrous shape; in the factory proper, by converting the workman into a living appendage of the machine” (1867). In the multispecies balance of string figures, it is not only animals that are subordinate to machines, but to an extent humans, too.
Before condemning all involvement of humans and their machines in animal lives, we must consider potential positive ways in which humans and their machines inject themselves into animal lives. Secretly using cameras to film and expose and raise awareness about the mistreatment of farm animals is such an example. Documentary films like ‘Earthlings’ (2005) and ‘Dominion’ (2018) make use of hidden cameras and aerial drones to investigate the dark side of animal agriculture.
Another example of positive human and machine intervention in animal lives can be found in the case of Temple Grandin, who has designed a third of all livestock-handling facilities in the U.S. Grandin credits her autism for her ability to see the world through the animals’ eyes, and due to this empathy and unique perspective it may be argued that she embodies the multispecies approach. In her own words, she describes the process through which she invented the curved cattle chute:
“I would kneel down and take pictures through the chute from the cow's eye level. Using the photos, I was able to figure out which things scared the cattle, such as shadows and bright spots of sunlight [...] The photos provided the unique advantage of seeing the world through a cow's viewpoint. They helped me figure out why the animals refused to go in one chute but willingly walked through another.”
Curved cattle chutes have had a massively positive impact on the quality of life of farm cattle. The animals move through curved chutes more gladly because they are under the impression that they are walking in circles, which they naturally do. Furthermore, the curved chutes keep them from looking straight ahead at the slaughter that awaits them, so they remain calm leading up to the moment before their death.
The multispecies way of thinking dictates that all exchanges between species must be mutually beneficial. In the case of hidden cameras and Grandin’s many inventions, it is clear that the animals are benefitting from those who become sensitised by the footage and adopt vegan lifestyles or otherwise try to help. When it comes to the curved chutes, however, the fact remains: the cattle would benefit more from a complete ban on slaughter. Improving the conditions of the interruption to animal lives by slaughter, by creating a second intervention in the form of the curved cattle chutes is a good solution for as long as the slaughter continues. To reduce the imbalance between our two species significantly, however, it is the root of the problem -the mass slaughter itself- which must be eradicated.
“I am allowed to kill the cow for food but she must be killed in a manner that will not cause pain,” is her philosophy (Grandin, 2002). Whilst taking the animal’s physical and emotional pain into consideration is the sign of a multispecies approach, and is certainly the most empathetic approach for as long as animal farming continues, assuming that we are “allowed to kill the cow” implies that we assume we are above the cow in the anthropocentric hierarchy of life.
We will not be able to ignore the consequences of interrupting animal technologies forever. As is well-known, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats produce methane as part of their normal digestive process. According to EPA, this methane accounts for approximately 10% of greenhouse gasses. Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Office writes that “getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten” (Gunders, 2012). A large percentage of this is animal products, including meat- cattle and other animals that were slaughtered only to never be consumed.
In the 2004 comedy film ‘Envy,’ eccentric entrepreneur Nick Vanderpark finds great success and wealth with his invention, “Vapoorize”: a spray that instantly disintegrates dog feces. The success of this bizarre product may seem the stuff of comedy, but it is arguably not far from our reality. Despite scoring a measly 4.8 on IMDb, the film is startlingly accurate in capturing today’s society’s mass mentality: “sweep it under the rug”. But in truth, our interventions in the non-human animal world have mounting consequences which cannot go unaddressed. As Anna Tsing says, “If you’re going to take the technology you also have to take the waste materials, the consequences, that whole apparatus” (2016).
MLA Annotated Bibliography
- Andrews, Jeff, et al. “Dairy Farm Layout and Design: Building and Yard Design, Warm Climates.” Reference Module in Food Science, Elsevier, 2016, pp. 83-85.
Andrews, Davidson, and Pereira describe the facilities used on dairy cattle farms, including the milking center. They shed light onto the fact that any facility design tends to be a compromise, and never optimal.
- Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. “Early Weaning And Its Impact On Cows, Calves, & Producers.” Beef Magazine, 3 Oct. 2013, www.beefmagazine.com.
This ‘Beef Magazine’ article details the operational impacts of early weaning on both cattle and their calves, as well as pasture quality. Whilst it highlights the importance of the farm animals’ welfare, the motivation behind it is ultimately to keep the animals profitable.
- CoPulsation™ Milking System Welcome to the World of Dairy Technology Advancement. 2011, www.copulsation.com.
CoPulsation™ is a patented pulsation product, whose creators claim to be the most current and technologically advanced one in the market. Its aim is to increase the comfort of cows during the milking process by being more gentle on the cow’s teats. They explain how conventional milking machines often damage the teats and cause mastitis.
- Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4, Pt.1), 377–383.
Psychologists Darley and Latane were the first to coin two concepts which have become key to understanding human psychology and behaviour: diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect, the first of which leads to the second. According to their studies, we are less likely to help a victim when others are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely we are to intervene.
- De Koning , C.J.A.M. (Kees). “Automatic Milking – Common Practice On Dairy Farms.” 2010.
In this paper, De Koning, who was born and raised on a small farm with cows, pigs, and poultry in the Netherlands, offers an overview of the historical development of automatic milking, and compares it to conventional milking systems. He details the challenges and opportunities for future development for automated milking systems.
- Edwards, Paul N., et al. “Seminar: Techno-Metabolism” Anthropocene Curriculum, 2016, anthropocene-curriculum.org.
In this Techno-Metabolism seminar, Paul N. Edwards, Gabrielle Hecht, and Jonas Loh discuss the similarities, interactions, and frictions between the biosphere, and lithosphere.
- Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations. “Milking Machines And Equipment.” Milking, Milk Production Hygiene and Udder Health, 1989, www.fao.org.
This ‘animal production and health’ paper by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations details the construction, components, actions, process, and maintenance of the three basic types of milking machines.
- Føske Johnsen, Julie, et al. “The Effect of Nursing on the Cow–Calf Bond.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 163, Feb. 2015, pp. 50–57.
The eight authors of this Norwegian and American paper investigate the effects of calf nursing on the development of the cow-calf bond, in light of the widespread separation of calves from cows soon after birth.
- Grandin, Temple. “Animals Are Not Things: A View on Animal Welfare Based on Neurological Complexity.” 2002, Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University.
In this paper, presented at a discussion on whether or not animals should be property at Harvard University, Grandin approaches the subject of animals as property in a very concrete manner that is based more on neuroscience instead of philosophical concepts. She argues that due to their nervous system complexity and capacity to feel pain, animals cannot be considered “things” in the same way that an inanimate object can, but concludes that they can be property to the extent that laws and other protections can be put in place to insure their welfare.
- Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
This autobiography is possibly Temple Grandin’s most famous book. In it, she shares her experience of life with autism. Her autism allows her to think, feel, and experience the world in unorthodox ways which most people cannot relate to or comprehend. It is this ability which led her to make groundbreaking machine and facility inventions to improve the welfare of animals in the farming industry.
- Gunders, Dana. “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) , 2012.
This paper is packed with statistics which point to the fact that we are wasting more food than ever. Gunders urges that we must get back to a place of wasting far less. She says that this requires measures such as changes in supply-chain operation, enhanced market incentives, increased public awareness and adjustments in consumer behaviour.
- Haraway, Donna J. “Playing String Figures with Companion Species.” Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene, Duke University Press Books, 2016, pp. 9–29.
In this book, Haraway challenges us to reconsider, reconfigure, and reclassify human relations to the earth, its elements, and non-human animals. She coins the phrase “staying with the trouble,” which can be interpreted as an attempt to acknowledge the difficulties and complexities of the relationships of all things on Earth, to keep these in mind and do our best to improve them.
- Jago, J., and K. Kerrisk. “Training Methods for Introducing Cows to a Pasture-Based Automatic Milking System.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 131, no. 3-4, 2011, pp. 79–85., doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.02.002.
As its title suggests, this paper covers how cows are trained to volunteer to use Automatic Milking Systems (AMS), without human supervision.
- Marx, Karl. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Verlag von Otto Meisner, 1867.
For Marxists and non-Marxists alike, there is much to learn from ‘Das Kapital’. Many of its teachings are applicable to today’s factories. It is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950. It is a study of the condition of factory workers at the height of the industrial revolution, and a description of how the capitalist system works, as well as its faults.
- Noske, Barbara. 1989. Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Other Animals. London: Pluto Press.
In this groundbreaking book from the 80s, Noske exposes and interrogates our anthropocentric approach to our relationship with non-human animals. Noske most notably coins the term ‘animal industrial complex,’ referring to the human profit accumulated from the institutionalised exploitation of non-human animals.
- Reinhardt V, Reinhardt A. “Natural sucking performance and age of weaning in zebu cattle (Bos indicus)”. Journal of Agricultural Science, vol. 96, 1981, pp. 309-312.
This study is regarded as the most recognized and comprehensive study on natural weaning in cattle.
- Slovic, Paul. “The More Who Die, the Less We Care: Psychic Numbing and Genocide.” Imagining Human Rights, edited by Daniel Västfjäll, De Gruyter, 2015, pp. 55–68.
Psychologists Paul Slovic and Daniel Västfjäll explore the psychological phenomenon whereby we fail to understand large numbers. Numbers fail to trigger the emotion or feeling necessary to motivate us to action. As a result, we are insensitive to mass tragedies such as genocide and the mass exploitation that occurs in industrial animal farming.
- Tsing, Anna, et al. “Feral Technologies: Making and Unmaking Multispecies Dumps.” Anthropocene Curriculum, 2016, archive.anthropocene-curriculum.org.
In this seminar, Anna Tsing, Elaine Gan, and Bettina Stoetzer examine and conceptualise the Technosphere as a “dump” of multispecies relationships. They aim to expand what is meant by the term technology. They offer their views on why cows are part of the technosphere, as well as the role of an abandoned train depot.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Apr. 2020, www.epa.gov/ghgemissions.
An information and statistics-packed brief on the types of greenhouse gasses, how much is in the atmosphere, how long they stay there, and how strongly they impact it, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).