For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth to a calf every year. Most calves are separated from the cows within twelve hours of birth to reduce the risk of disease, and most do not stay on the farm for long.
The term ‘bobby calves’ means newborn calves that are less than two weeks old and not with their mothers. Essentially, they are surplus to dairy industry requirements as they are not required for the milking herd. This applies to almost all bull calves (males) and around three quarters of heifer calves (females). Some bull calves will be reared for veal production and about one quarter of the heifers will become replacements for adult milk-producing cows.
Bobby calves are housed together and fed colostrum, milk or milk replacer, usually only once a day. They are then sold, mostly for slaughter, at five days old. Products from processed calves include young veal for human consumption, valuable hides for leather and byproducts for the pharmaceutical industry.
Each year, this is the fate of around 800 000 bobby calves in
Transport requirements for bobby calves state that they must be at least five days old before they can be transported to the abattoir. Dairy farmers sign a National Vendor Declaration stating this is true and that each calf is fit for transport. Bobby calves may go straight to slaughter or to a calf sale and then to the abattoir. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Cattle (http://www.publish.csiro.au/books/download.cfm?ID=4831) recommends that bobby calves should be transported for a maximum of 10 hours and then slaughtered on the day of arrival at the abattoir. The RSPCA believes these conditions are not always met.
Because they are so young, bobby calves have the following specific animal welfare issues when they are being transported to slaughter:
In addition, as it is difficult to accurately judge a calf’s age, calves may sometimes be transported when they are younger than five days old.
For these reasons, the RSPCA believes bobby calves should be at least 10 days old and be fed at least four hours before being transported. Further, transport to the abattoir should be for less than 10 hours and in trucks that have protection from the elements, bedding and enough room for all calves to lie down.
Calves should be handled humanely at all times so they do not become injured or distressed. This means no rough handling, prodding, use of dogs or electric prodders.
For information on the management and slaughter of animals to minimise stress, refer to the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments (http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/22/pid/2975.htm).
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