Big changes are coming down the road for the veal sector.
This February new transportation regulations are coming and that’s going to change how male dairy calves are marketed and the whole sector will need to talk to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about a phased transition, a new report recommends.
Prepared by an expert panel for the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council under the guidance of David Fraser of the University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program, the report says use of auctions for calves aged eight days or less will not be permitted and animals too young to be fed exclusively on hay or grain will be limited to a single trip not exceeding 12 hours.
“Dairy farms wishing to market calves through auctions may opt to keep calves on the farm until nine days or more, but many farms may currently lack appropriate facilities and skills for raising calves to these older ages,” the report said.
“The new regulations are expected to have some benefits for animal welfare including preventing the shipping of calves with unhealed navels, and long-distance transport and unnecessary commingling of very young calves,” the report said. “However, to meet the regulations without unintended harms to calf health and welfare may require considerable change to infrastructure and skills.
“Alternatively, the new regulations might lead to more on-farm killing of male calves which would likely be resisted by both producers and the public,” it said. “Moreover, if enforcement of the new regulations is focused mostly on auction markets and commercial trucking stations, marketing might be shifted to less regulated sales avenues.”
The report urged the Canadian Veal Association to take the lead in clarifying the marketing processes for male dairy calves in different parts of Canada, and identifying the implications of the new CFIA regulations on the health and welfare of the calves and the sector in general.
Canadian dairy farms produce several hundred thousand male dairy calves each year, most of which are sold to specialist calf or veal producers to be raised for slaughter. Many of the calves are collected from the farm when very young, commingled with animals from other farms and transported considerable distances. The process raises obvious concerns about animal health, animal welfare and farm biosecurity.
The considerable difference in the condition of male calves offered for sale “may reflect differences in attitudes as some dairy farmers value calf health and welfare and provide a high standard of care, while others see male calves as a low-value byproduct that warrants minimal investment,” the report said. “Economics are almost certainly a factor, as the price farmers receive for calves may fall below the cost of keeping them until they are well established. Moreover, many farms – even new ones – are not designed to keep male calves beyond a few days of age and may not have enough staff with the skill and knowledge to raise calves successfully.”
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Canadian Association of Bovine Veterinarians and dairy producer organizations should encourage knowledge transfer to improve the quality of calf care, and explore the use of benchmarking for both male and female calves as a means of motivating improvement and monitoring progress in the industry, the report said.
Among the positive signs are Veal Farmers of Ontario regularly hosts a Healthy Calf Conference and is developing educational tools on calf health management for veterinarians. The Ontario Veterinary College includes a three-day module on calf health and production in its Dairy Health Management Certificate course.
As well, there is an emerging market for preconditioned calves that are vaccinated and weaned and Quebec’s new electronic passport system could be used to record features such as vaccination status that may be useful for calf growers, the report said. Some dairy herd veterinarians include a strong focus on good calf management.