9 January 1998

MAFFdefers calf tether ban after talks with NFU

By Peter Grimshaw

THE proposed Jan 1 ban on calf tethers, an essential element of the hutch rearing system used by hundreds of dairy farmers, has been postponed by MAFF.

It follows a second round of consultations with the NFU about the exact nature of the running leads used in the hutches. Meanwhile, producers can continue to use approved tethers as usual.

Brian Jennings, chairman of the NFUs animal health and welfare committee, will meet junior farm minister Elliot Morley in the next few weeks to discuss the issue further, although no date for the meeting has yet been fixed.

Mr Jennings is cautious about the outcome, in light of UK determination to bring EU-wide regulations on veal crates up to UK standards. Hutch tethers became entwined in this issue.

Strong line

"We know Elliot Morley is taking a strong line on this," said Mr Jennings. "However, MAFF left certain aspects of the system used in calf hutches out of the original consultative process. That is why we asked for a further meeting with the minister."

MAFF had refused to support NFU proposals for an amendment to exempt calves tethered on 2m (6.6ft) long leads in hutches, necessitating building separate runs for each hutch. Penning also complicates feeding and cleaning out and makes it difficult to avoid calf-to-calf contact.

High alteration cost

It is believed that there are 50,000 hutches with tethers in the UK, and the NFU estimated that a total cost of £2.5m would be incurred if all had to be altered.

Essex dairy farmer Peter Padfield, who introduced calf hutches to the UK from Canada, had planned to build pens on to his existing hutches, although he says the environment for a tethered calf is ideal, especially for disease control.

"People can tie their pets up, but we cant tether calves for their own good," he said.

"It looks restrictive when you first put a calf on a halter, but they quickly adapt and have been particularly healthy this winter, compared with other housing systems." &#42

Use of tethers in calf hutches can continue while MAFF gathers more data.