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The life of a UK dairy bull calf: improved

News Icon 28/11/2013

I had the great pleasure of attending the launch of the final report from the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum. As founding co-chair of the Forum, it was humbling to see just how much had been achieved by leaders from the UK dairy and beef industries, the retail and food sectors, veterinarians and academics working together. The collective effort has resulted in a 90% reduction in live calf exports to the continent, a remarkable achievement.

Seven years ago, UK male dairy calves were considered the unfortunate by-product of the dairy industry. With no market in the UK, many were shot at birth or exported to continental veal systems often operating to standards illegal in the UK.

The Forum considered this to be a sign of a failure in the UK market, so we set out to find sustainable and realistic ways to give male dairy calves a better future. In 2006 producers, retailers, farming organisations and NGOs joined together to work towards shared solutions. You can see the diversity of the organisations involved in the forum here.

One of the keynote speakers at the launch, Professor John Webster, Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry at the University of Bristol said: “Despite the title of the Forum, it is not about exports as such, it’s about alternatives.

“Every animal should have a decent quality of life and a gentle death. The Forum has found new markets such as promoting higher welfare, British rose veal.”

Our aim was to integrate the beef and dairy chains, increasing marketing opportunities for dairy calves to be reared for beef in the UK. This was expected to mutually benefit industry, consumers and improve welfare for the calves.

I am delighted to announce that fantastic progress has been made. Together, we kick-started an attitudinal shift in the UK, generating an economic value for male dairy calves where before there was none. This has been achieved through embracing traditional husbandry values while keeping a spirit of looking for mutual benefits – for producers, dairy and beef farmers as well as animal welfarists.

Since the forum began in 2006 the number of male dairy calves being reared in Great Britain has risen dramatically by 58%, so that the percentage reared here is now at 86%. The number of calves killed on farm is now at 12%, a reduction of 36% since 2006. But the biggest success is in the number of calves being exported live to the continent – an enormous fall of 90%, to less than 10,000 calves to the continent. Compare this to the truly dark days of the early 1990s, when half a million calves were exported every year to the most wretched lives in veal crates.

In celebrating these achievements, we must also look to the future, and what can still be done to make further improvements in the lives of male dairy calves. I look forward to building on the cooperative spirit, the problem-solving acumen, developed by diverse organisations working through the Forum. And I would be happy to commend the approach taken as a model for overcoming seemingly intractable problems in the future.


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