IN THE NEWS: On APR 12, 2017
THE contentious bobby calf dairy trade appears doomed under a dramatic push by the beef industry.
Beef leaders have kicked off a campaign to stamp out the practice of selling male dairy calves at five days old. Instead, they want a minimum age, possibly three months, or weight limit before calves can leave a farm for slaughter.
The move has heightened tensions between the dairy and beef industries, with dairy farmers saying they will struggle with the cost of keeping calves longer.
The move by the Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group,with the knowledge of the Cattle Council of Australia,is believed to be the first time one sector has moved to force standards on another farm sector.
“The industry needs to change the way it handles bobby calves,” VFF livestock group president Leonard Vallance told The Weekly Times.
“We want to improve animal welfare and increase production in the cattle industry.”
Mr Vallance would not confirm his group was seeking a minimum age or weight standard for bobby calves, only that he thought they must be “robust”.
“It’s not dairy policy, it’s meat industry policy ... the minute they stop milking them, they belong to the beef trade,” he said.
A former chair of meat industry regulator PrimeSafe, Mr Vallance is expected to meet the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria next week to discuss an industry-driven review of the cattle supply chain.
There are fears changing the rules around bobby calves could lead to an increase in the number of bobby calves destroyed on farm.
Dairy farmers told The Weekly Times some breeds of calves, such as Jerseys, were sold at a loss at five days of age. Keeping them longer without any market demand would be “unprofitable”, they said.
Others said it would be impossible to accommodate double the amount of calves on farm.
“My calf shed is full now, plus the extra labour and cost,” one dairy farmer said.
“It just can’t happen without a market for them,” another said.
UDV president Adam Jenkins said the dairy industry was “constantly reviewing” its role in bobby calf welfare.
“The industry is best practice now, but we can always improve,” Mr Jenkins said.
It’s believed the VFF Livestock Group’s proposal to review the standards for bobby calves has the in-principle support of Cattle Council of Australia chief executive Duncan Bremner.
Last week, Mr Bremner, with Mr Vallance and senior Commonwealth Government bureaucrats, visited Midfield Meats in Warrnambool and the Union Station dairy farm in western Victoria. Both businesses are owned by Colin McKenna. Midfield is one of Victoria’s biggest abattoirs.
Mr McKenna’s dairy farm rears Holstein bull calves, that are then backgrounded elsewhere to be killed at about 550kg liveweight at about 16 months old.
Mr McKenna told The Weekly Times he was unaware of the VFF Livestock Group’s bobby-calf plan.
He said there was a market for Holstein bull calves as long as dairy farmers rear them “properly”.
“They have to be a minimum 140kg when they go for backgrounding,” he said.
Mr Bremner told ABC Radio the party visited the McKenna farm to “talk about some of the contentious issues” in the livestock industry.
“(That includes) what happens with the bull calves and how we cater to what the producer is looking for …. This is about highlighting what’s best for the producer, what’s best for the consumer and what’s best for everybody in between,” Mr Bremner said.
Arguments put forward for growing bobby calves beyond the existing five-day minimum age include:
INCREASED throughput in under-utilised abattoirs.
DEVELOPING a new market for dairy beef and calf rearing trade.
IMPROVED animal welfare and reduced biosecurity risk.
REDUCED risk of antibiotic residue in Australian beef.
INCREASED access into global markets.
But Mr Jenkins said any change would require “strong industry consultation”.
“We aim to always be ahead of the curve and the dairy and livestock industries can work together for that.”
He said there was always “interest” in bobby-calf welfare from animal groups.
He said these groups were consulted when welfare changes were made, pointing to recent industry-led phasing out of calving induction.
The Weekly Times asked the Victorian Government, Animals Australia and RSPCA Victoria if they knew of a review of bobby calf standards. None had heard of new standards being raised.
The RSPCA has previously promoted the consumption of veal as a way to improve bobby calf welfare.