Bobby calves a target

The dairy industry is developing protocols to ensure the welfare of bobby calves.ANIMALS Australia has launched yet another scathing campaign against agriculture – this time on the dairy’s industry treatment of bobby calves.

Quarter-page advertisements were run through metro newspapers over the weekend, with the animal welfare group saying “the questionable ethics behind milk production had been a long-held secret”.

The emotionally-driven campaign told readers 700,000 calves die each year, with the male calf considered a ‘waste product’.

“We want the community to be aware of the practices of the dairy industry,” Animals Australia executive officer Glenys Oogjes said.

“Most people have no idea that cows need to have calves each year to produce milk.”

The attack comes as the dairy industry failed to come to an agreement to legalise a proposed maximum of 30 hours from the time of feeding to the next feed, or slaughter.

Australian Dairy Farmers’ animal health and welfare chair David Basham said it was extremely disappointing the Primary Industry Ministerial Council, which represented all States, could not come to an agreement on the issue.

He said the 30 hour time suggestion was backed by research, as well as being supported by a reference group that included farmers, livestock agents, processors and transporters.

New Zealand is the only other country in the world to have a standard of 30 hours between feeds in place.

“As soon as we found out, the industry immediately decided it was unacceptable to have no standards in place,” Mr Basham said.

“Now what is happening is that the industry – including everyone along the supply chain – has decided to put their own standards in place to ensure the welfare of calves.”

He said it was industry practice to slaughter bobby calves as soon as possible, but Ms Oogjes said the standards needed to be readjusted to take into account the calves, rather than the “convenience” of industry players.

“We have made progress and I would be disappointed if Animals Australia did not recognise the efforts the dairy industry is making,” he said.

He said bobby calves remained a valuable protein source for US and Middle Eastern market, so it was crucial to set up welfare protocols.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Kerry Callows said the welfare group’s claim that bobby calves were a ‘waste product’ was far from the truth.

“Bobby calves are not a ‘waste product’; they are processed for a specific market – protein,” she said.

She said the group’s stance unfairly painted farmers as uncaring.

“Dairy farmers do give a damn about those calves. You don’t dairy farm unless you have an affinity with animals.”

But at the moment she said it was hard to get facts to stand stronger than emotion.

Shepparton regional livestock manager Jock Hicks said the dairy industry had made great strides in the treatment of bobby calves, but there was still a long way to go.

“We have noticed a big lift in the quality of calves that are coming in,” he said.

“We are audited, so we have been sending calves home if they are not in the right condition. Rather than accept them, we will send them home and that is sending a big message to farmers.

“I would say welfare has improved 10-fold.”

Mr Hicks added the trend of sending bobby calves to slaughter when they are young had been changing, with an increasing number kept as steers.

The Shepparton saleyards holds a weekly calf market with 500-head sold at the peak of calving season.

“Once the drought broke, a lot more people were interested in rearing calves, so they would go back out in the paddock; especially the top-end of the Friesian bull calves,” he said.

Dairy Livestock Services’ Andrew Mackie, who is based in the dairying region of Leongatha, also noted an improvement in bobby calves.

He said bobby calves were an important part of the dairy industry, which has a farm-gate value of production of more than $3.4 billion and is a major regional employer.

“More farmers are keeping Friesian bulls to rear, because it is a value-added product,” he said.

“When the beef job declined, there was an opportunity to make some money.”

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