16 July 1999

CPAS end raises fears of on-farm slaughtering

By FW livestock reporters

FEARS that the Calf Processing Aid Schemes end on July 31 could lead to a crash in calf prices raises concerns that calves may be slaughtered on farm.

But producers must consider how slaughter and disposal can be carried out humanely and safely, warn industry experts.

MLC economic analyst Duncan Sinclair admits that it is unable to forecast calf prices following the CPASs end, until figures from trading in the first week in August are available. Even then, uncertainty over prices will encourage many to delay marketing calves that week.

MLC forecasts that half the number of calves slaughtered under CPAS, 670,000 in 1998, will be reared to supply processors. More guidance on what needs to be considered before rearing bulls will be offered in an MLC publication at the end of July.

But that leaves about 300,000 excess calves. "If the price gets too low, a number will be slaughtered at an early age." It is likely that heifers or poorer quality bulls will be slaughtered, adds Mr Sinclair.

But producers are not keen to shoot calves and hope to sell them directly to abattoirs or for fattening. Glos milk producer John Round has been sending about 100 calves a year to his local abattoir

"I am hoping to continue sending them to the abattoir and get enough to cover passport and haulage charges, at least £15 each."

But if he does not receive that, he will consider disposing of calves on farm. "Our local hunt currently takes stillborn calves, but I expect it will be inundated with calves if prices crash."

Letting calves go for low prices is not an option Leics milk producer Nigel Smith is prepared to consider. "The cost of rearing a calf to 2-3 weeks old is at least £20. If prices are only £20 a head, I may as well get the hunt to shoot them."

With producers reluctant to shoot calves themselves, this task is likely to fall to hunt staff, knackers or vets. Producers in any doubt should not shoot their own calves, warns Humane Slaughter Assoc-iation director, Miriam Parker. It is also unacceptable to kill calves with a heavy blow to the head.

"Those planning using a captive bolt need a slaughtermans licence which requires some training. Other firearms can be used without a licence, but producers could face prosecution if slaughtering an animal goes badly wrong."

Disposal of animals is also a potential problem. It could give rise to public health and environmental concerns, believes Miss Parker. "There is no infrastructure in place to deal with calf disposal."

Richard Sibley of the British Cattle Vet Association hopes those collecting calves for the CPAS will continue to provide a service, but they will need to charge producers.

He favours shooting calves on farm humanely before they are allowed to suffer, then having them removed for disposal. "It is pointless to transport calves to shoot them," he adds.

"Our greatest concern is that calves will fall into the hands of rearers who think they can profit from low-cost systems. Calves will be taken to unsuitable housing, spreading disease between them and then they will die unpleasantly."

According to NFU guidelines, MAFF legislation states that burning – except incineration – or burial can only be carried out on farms in restricted circumstances. This includes when the carcass is in an inaccessible place or the distance to an approved rendering plant or incinerator does not justify transporting it. Where burial is permitted, it must be carried out according to MAFFs Code of Good Agricultural Practice. &#42