12 May 1995

French go for narrower veal crate

FRENCH trials have shown that the minimum EU recommended width of 81cm (32in) for veal crates can be reduced to only 65cm (26in) with no adverse effects on calf performance.

At the French Institute of Animal Productions veal calf research centre at Le Rheu, Rennes, Brittany, comparisons of calves kept in 70cm (28in) wide and 81cm (32in) wide crates and on slats and straw in pens of five calves have shown that the most economic production system is with slimline crates.

"Under French conditions our research work has indicated that the best width dimension for veal crates is 65cm to 70cm, and not 81cm as directed by Brussels," said Pierre Billon, head of the farm buildings, equipment and ergonomics department.

He was speaking to members of the RDBA (Farm Buildings Association), who inspected the veal research unit on their annual overseas study tour to Brittany.

Veal research unit manager Cristophe Martineau told the group that the only difference between 70cm and 81cm wide crates was that calves could turn round in the wider crates until they were about 17 weeks old, whereas in the narrow crates they could not turn round from about 12 weeks old.

He does not consider it necessary for calves to turn round until slaughter at 20-26 weeks.

he dthey are slaughtered at 20-26 weeks old, Mr Martineau said: "I do not think this is necessary, or will be agreed at Brussels."

Almost all of the veal production in France was with milk only fed animals due to the strong consumer preference in France for white veal. Annual production was about 2.8m calves, with most calves exported from Britain to France used for white veal production in intensive conditions.

In addition about 400,000 suckler calves were destined for the veal trade in France.

Disadvantages of group housing that have been found in trials at Le Rheu include extra labour, more difficulty in checking health status, and treating individual animals, and leg problems when calves were lying down.

Essex farmer on the tour, David Fisher, Hall Farm, Southminster, said many English people would consider the narrow crate system for veal calves cruel.

"That may be so, but we have shown that calves are comfortable in 70cm crates," replied Mr Martineau. "They are of course more active when housed in groups, but unfortunately calves cannot tell us whether they need such activity."

Results of other recent research work on veal production was also presented to the RDBA members on their visit. It included results from comparing automatic milk feeding ad-lib and four times a day to calves on straw and on slats, heavy veal production producing 140-145kg carcasses, and behaviour studies of veal calves kept in different housing systems.