Cows like all other mammals have to deliver a baby before they start lactating.
If animals are farmed to produce milk their offspring, be they calves, lambs or kids, are a by-product.
Dairy farms here usually keep most of their heifer calves to raise as replacements or for later sale.
Some might raise some bull calves for beef but most are sold to others to raise or sent for slaughter as bobby calves.
Normal practice is to treat all animals well and make the process from birth to death as fast and humane as possible for the calves.
The mistreatment of calves shown on Sunday last night is not normal practice.
It is aberrant, abhorrent and appeared to be illegal.
No-one is trying to excuse it.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is investigating and DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand have condemned it:
Dairy industry bodies say they are appalled at the bobby care practices revealed in video footage recorded by animal rights group Farmwatch and released as part of a SAFE public campaign launched against dairy farming.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says cruel and illegal practices are in no way condoned or accepted by the industry as part of dairy farming.
“We are shocked and farmers are too,” he says. “We will be asking questions of everyone involved. Farmers don’t see what goes on when calves leave their farm and we need to be holding the transport operators and processing plants to account to ensure bad practices get stamped out of our industry.
“Our surveys show that 95 percent of farmers are compliant with all animal welfare codes and they take great care of their animals including calves. We obviously want to see that even higher because the dairy industry takes its animal welfare responsibilities seriously and we are committed to farming to high standards,” he says.
“There is a range of industry initiatives already in place and we will be boosting our actions with other groups to ensure the care of calves.”
Federated Farmers’ dairy section chair, Andrew Hoggard says “farmers have to farm within strict animal welfare rules and the vast majority care for their animals humanely and responsibly”.
He says the footage released by SAFE and Farmwatch includes some appalling behaviour, by a minority of farmers but also by transport companies and slaughterhouse workers. “This is something we and the industry will not tolerate.
“Federated Farmers strongly, and each season, reinforces to its members that the highest standards of animal welfare must apply when dealing with all calves. The federation will also put resources behind any industry initiatives to review the handling, transport and processing of bobby calves,” says Mr Hoggard.
Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand executive director Kimberly Crewther says that compliance with the New Zealand codes of welfare is important to dairy companies.
“These codes are internationally recognised as robust. Where there are breaches we fully support and expect Ministry for Primary Industries’ compliance action,” she says.
This abuse of animals is an indictment on the perpetrators, it should not be taken as a reflection on the whole industry in which most people in the production chain strive for, and achieve, high standards of practice with animal welfare a priority.
Any mistreatment of animals is completely unacceptable to Fonterra and our farmers.
We’re taking immediate steps to deal with it alongside the rest of the New Zealand dairy industry:
- We’ve requested a meeting with SAFE, and will let them know that we share their concern for the treatment of animals, and to seek further information from them on the footage
- We’re in contact with representatives from the meat industry to discuss what we have seen in the footage to express to them our concerns around the treatment of bobby calves
Animal welfare is our priority
While bobby calves will always be part of the dairy industry, they must be treated with care and respect. Behaviour in this footage in no way represents the vast majority of New Zealand farmers who care about their animals.
As a Co-operative we take a hard line on animal welfare. We’re investigating this and will be taking strong action if any of our people were involved.
We work proactively with our farmers to embed best practice and uphold the Five Freedoms:
- Freedom from hunger or thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
- Freedom from fear and distress through conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
Fonterra is absolutely committed to responsible dairying. We work with our farmers to ensure they maintain the highest standards of animal welfare and they have a strong track record when it comes to on-farm animal welfare practices.
We audit farms annually and have strict controls in place in any instance where these Five Freedoms are not being observed.
Working together with the dairy industry
This includes working with industry representative bodies like Dairy NZ and MPI to support our farmers and ensure best practice is observed on-farm.
We want to let our customers and consumers know that we are taking action to ensure these practices do not happen on Fonterra farms and will be front-footing this issue with other primary industries.