Dairy industry bodies are appalled at the bobby calf mistreatment revealed in video footage recorded by animal rights group Farmwatch and released as part of a SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) public campaign launched against dairy farming in New Zealand this month.
Cruel and illegal practices are in no way condoned or accepted by the industry as part of dairy farming. We don’t believe the mistreatment shown in these videos is widespread or that these videos fairly represent New Zealand dairy farming in general.
What is the industry doing in response to this issue?
- Seven industry associations, along with the Ministry for Primary Industries, have joined together to eradicate the mistreatment of bobby calves. View media release.
- DairyNZ has ensured good practice advice is available to all dairy farmers. See Bobby Calf welfare guidelines.
- We are also using mainstream and social media channels to communicate to everyone who is concerned about the issue.
- We are meeting with SAFE to talk through their concerns.
Some key facts to note
- SAFE says its footage comes from across 12 farms in the Waikato. There are 11,970 dairy farms in New Zealand so its footage represents just 0.1% of dairy farms.
- DairyNZ conducts in-depth animal welfare risk-assessment surveys on 500 dairy farms each year. These are used to guide our research and farmer engagement activities. The information gathered from those 1 ½-2 hour interviews and farm visits show that 95% of farmers are compliant with all animal welfare codes. We obviously want to see that percentage even higher.
- Around 60% of calves born in New Zealand are either reared for beef purposes or they join the milking herd. Over time the number of calves going into the dairy beef industry has steadily increased. Through improved practices and careful selection of easy calving beef sires, this trend is likely to continue.
- The Animal Protection Index developed by World Animal Protection establishes a classification of 50 countries around the world according to their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare. New Zealand is ranked among the top four countries alongside the UK, Switzerland and Austria with an A rating. To read more about how we stack up internationally, click here.
- The Ministry for Primary Industries is investigating. See this media release.
Where to from here?
We want all dairy farmers and the supply chain (transporters and abattoirs) to always operate at the highest standard.
What is the dairy industry’s evidence that the mistreatment of bobby calves, as portrayed in the Farmwatch video footage, is not widespread?
We understand that only one abattoir was featured in the footage released.
This is one of a small number of pet food processors, which together process less than 2% of all bobby calves.
SAFE says its footage came from across 12 farms in the Waikato. There are 11,970 dairy farms in New Zealand so its footage represents just 0.1% of dairy farms. Only one farm seems to have been in the footage showing mistreatment with calves in a cage on the roadside.
Our animal welfare risk-assessment survey shows 95% of farmers are compliant with all animal welfare codes.
Dairy companies also include animal welfare as part of their annual farm audits.
Farmers have reacted with disgust and dismay at the footage, with many showing and explaining how and why the footage does not reflect normal farm practices.
Less than 4% of animal welfare complaints to Ministry for Primary Industries in the last three years have related to bobby calves.
What is DairyNZ doing to reassure the public and farmers?
We have a DairyNZ team working on what actions we can take in preparation for next calving season.
This includes joining with Federated Farmers, the Dairy Companies Association, the Petfood Manufacturers Association, the Meat Industry Association, the Road Transport Forum, the New Zealand Veterinary Association and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to understand where improvements can be made to eliminate mistreatment of bobby calves from farm to abattoir.
However, the industry firmly believes that taking action is what counts - and we are focused on working with all related groups to ensure mistreatment of bobby calves is eliminated.
Will there be a campaign to counter the SAFE one?
Farmers have done a terrific job through social media and other channels since the SAFE footage was released. Personal stories show the New Zealand public and our international customers that we care about our animals and that animal welfare is important to us.
We firmly believe that taking action is what counts - and we are focused on working with all related groups to ensure mistreatment of bobby calves is eliminated.
Do you actively help animals at risk?
DairyNZ has an Early Response Service run by the industry to deal with animal welfare issues early and support a farmer who might be stressed or having difficulty caring for animals.
What are you doing about caring for calves to be transported?
We provide advice and guidance for farmers to ensure that they understand the requirements for the preparation and selection of calves for transport. All calves must be at least four days old and fit and healthy. They must also have been fed at least half their days ration of milk in the two hours before pick-up.
Farmers and transporters are encouraged to ensure that transport distances are short as possible. There are strict guidelines for transporters to provide rest and feed where longer journeys are unavoidable.
Truck drivers are also required to handle calves carefully and gently. We encourage communication between transporters and farmers to minimise transport time, and have been working with the trucking industry on various initiatives.
What are you doing about caring for calves at a slaughterhouse?
Ministry for Primary Industries' (MPI) veterinarians oversee and audit the whole supply chain.
The behaviour filmed at the pet food processor was abhorrent and must be stopped immediately and must never be allowed to happen again.
We support the Ministry for Primary Industries' supervision of processing facilities. Meat processor plants that handle the vast majority of bobby calves are highly supervised and regulated.
Currently pet food slaughterhouses process less than 2% of bobby calves and we are working with MPI to ensure their supervision is appropriate during the bobby calf season.
Is separating newborn calves from cows shortly after birth traumatic for the animals?
Like any animal, it can be difficult for the dam and calf, but they are collected quickly because the longer the calves remain with their dams, the greater the stress of separation. We also know from research when calves are left with the dams, about a third of all calves do not drink enough colostrum and, as a result, are more susceptible to disease and death due to compromised immunity.
There is also the practical issue of bringing cows and calves to the shed together for milking if calves were left on the cows for several days.
Calves are born mid-winter through to early spring (July-September) and are vulnerable to cold and/or wet conditions, so early collection does avoid issues such as hypothermia which could lead to death. Any at-risk calves are identified early and receive special treatment.
How does cow care on dairy farms in New Zealand compare with other countries?
Internationally our care of animals stacks up very well. Most New Zealand cows live outdoors, graze on grass and with their herd mates, are fed well and live a good life producing milk.
Unlike most countries that calve their cows all year round, in New Zealand we have a seasonal calving system that means most farms calve all their cows in spring time in time for the spring flush of grass growth when the grass is at its best and most plentiful. Like all countries, the cows have a calf each year, produce milk for about nine months following calving and then have a break for up to three months before producing again.
To read more about how we stack up internationally on animal welfare, click here.
Does the industry have any initiatives in place to stamp out bad practice and ensure farmers know how to care for calves, including for transport?
We have a range of training, workshops and industry initiatives to ensure all farmers are aware of their responsibilities and train their staff appropriately in terms of animal welfare and calves, including transport.
In 2014/15 DairyNZ delivered 95 husbandry and welfare workshops to 2422 farmers (topics include animal welfare, humane slaughter, body condition score, cow health). We also trained 27 vets to deliver animal welfare training to farmers.
We set out animal welfare standards of care clearly to farmers and actively promote them to farmers. We also run workshops to discuss these issues with farmers and help them train their staff.
That’s not to say that there are not bad practices or bad behaviour from some farmers – but they are dealt with by the regulators and the courts - and cruel and illegal practices are in no way condoned or accepted by the industry as part of farming.
Has SAFE directly raised bobby calf animal welfare issues previously with DairyNZ staff (before this footage release)?
We have checked with our staff and no one has any knowledge of SAFE raising specific concerns directly with us. So no, we are not aware of any prior specific approach by SAFE to DairyNZ staff with regard to bobby calf issues.
What is a bobby calf?
A bobby calf is an unweaned calf at least four days old, which is sold to a meat processor and humanely slaughtered for human or petfood consumption.