Cows are affectionate, sensitive, and full of personality. Cows like to live in large herds, and can recognise more than 100 members of their herd. They 'moo' and use different body positions and facial gestures to communicate with each other. They are deeply loyal to their families, but can hold grudges against other cows that treat them badly for a surprisingly long time.

They are smart and curious animals who enjoy intellectual challenges, and sometimes even jump with excitement upon solving a problem. The mother-calf bond is very strong. A cow mother will frantically bellow and search for her baby for days and even weeks after the calf is taken away.

Yet most cows raised for beef live their short lives on barren, muddy feedlots containing up to 40,000 cows. They endure excruciating forms of torture. To mark cows, ranchers press hot fire irons into their flesh. Their horns are cut or burned off, and male calves are castrated, all without anaesthetic. They need to be restrained during these procedures as their bodies shake uncontrollably from the pain. While cows are supposed to be stunned by electricity or a bolt gun to render them unconscious before slaughter, improper stunning practices mean that many cows remain conscious while their throats are slit and they are hung upside down to allow the blood to drain. Some are even skinned alive.

Like human mothers, cows do not produce milk unless they are lactating. In order to maximise profits, dairy cows are forced through more pregnancy cycles that their bodies can naturally handle. Each time one pregnancy cycle ends, they are immediately impregnated via artificial insemination to begin another. Their babies are taken from them when they are less than 1 day old. Once a cow’s body is ‘spent’ after 5-6 years (her natural lifespan is 20), the industry no longer has any use for her, and sends her for slaughter to be turned into low-grade hamburger meat.

When a dairy cow gives birth to a male calf, he is taken away and chained in a dark, tiny crate. Terrified and alone hours after being brought into this world, he will be killed after just 1-3 months of life and sold as veal.

It is possible to push the blame to the animal industries and demand that they treat animals better, but as long as we want affordable meat at the amounts we currently do, any consideration for the suffering of these animals is thrown out of the equation. The only solution is to reduce our consumption of meat, or to cut out meat altogether.

For a more in depth explanation on animal intelligence and treatment (including that of animals not mentioned in this article), check out PETA's articles on factory farming.