Animal welfare hit the headlines recently following BBC Radio 4 presenter Evan Davis’ comment to Minette Batters during an interview that conditions on farms in the UK were ‘not good’.
While the statement was quickly, and widely, refuted by the farming sector, Adam Buitelaar, of calf rearing specialist Buitelaar, says there is still work to be done regarding one specific welfare issue; namely bull calves from the dairy herd.
He says: “There are some great farmers out there; farmers doing a fantastic job, but there are also some farmers who are not taking responsibility for the industry they are in.
“In this day and age we cannot be breeding animals that are not serviceable as a beef animal.”
In particular, Mr Buitelaar has concerns about breeding within extensively grazed herds, where cross-breeding genetics are often used, with little or no value attached to bull calves coming out of these systems.
He says there is no reason for these calves to be shot and as an alternative farmers should consider using sexed semen to produce replacements alongside beef bulls to ensure any resultant progeny has a value.
“The whole attitude to bull calves from the dairy herd must change, otherwise we will alienate our consumers.
“Supermarkets are continually researching what their consumers want and welfare is creeping higher and higher up the agenda each year.
“We need to remember that the consumer is the boss of the industry as they are the ones lifting meat and dairy products off the shelf.
“I want my own children to be able to decide for themselves whether they want to be sixth generation of my family to go into agriculture and do not want that decision dictated to them because consumers are not drinking milk or eating meat anymore.”
Mr Buitelaar adds with the issue consistently under the spotlight, dairy chiefs have started to look at welfare standards. And he commends Arla’s UK360 standards, which ban the shooting or exporting of healthy bull calves, as do the standards for the Pasture Promise logo.
However, he adds that while it is important to be conscious of consumer preference, any decision made within the industry must be practical and treat farmers fairly.
“Farmers could be under pressure in future to adhere to guidelines around issues such as housing of calves and when to remove calves from their mothers, but it is important that these decisions are made with some thought to how the farmer is best able to deliver these outcomes.”
Buitelaar has recently been recognised for its work within the area of dairy calf welfare with a ‘good calf’ award at Compassion in World Farming’s (CIWF) animal welfare awards.
CIWF said the award had been made in recognition of the work done to build a ‘sustainable, integrated supply chain’ for bull calves, and also for easing pressures faced by TB-restricted herds.
Mr Buitelaar explains the company is in the process of building two new approved rearing units able to take an extra 1,500 calves from herds under TB restrictions.
“TB is a huge issue, and we want to work with our regular calf suppliers on this by providing a market for these calves,” he adds.