Dairy industry takes steps to end bull calf euthanasia

Dairy farmers will be required to end the routine euthanasia of bull calves as part of plans to improve farm assurance standards.

Farms that are signed up to the Red Tractor standards scheme will be banned from the “routine euthanasia of calves” by the end of 2021 – but they will be given the next 12 months to adjust their businesses.

The announcement is part of a whole industry agreement by the AHDB, the NFU and Red Tractor to end the controversial practice of shooting healthy calves on UK farms in the future.

See also: How sexed semen is paying off for Shropshire dairy farmer

The dairy industry has already committed to rearing all calves with care and eliminating the euthanasia of bull calves by 2023.

Red Tractor said the announcement follows an extensive examination last summer of dairy farming by a cross-industry coalition of more than 40 farming and animal welfare bodies, government and key industry stakeholders.

The farm assurance body sought views on two new standards for the dairy sector:

  1. Farms must have a written breeding and management policy in place and implemented so there is no routine euthanasia of calves 
  2. Annual collation of calf births/deaths must be maintained. 

These standards will be in place in the new year and will be rolled out across the dairy sector. Farmers will be given until the end of next year to meet the standards before they are fully implemented.

Christine Watts, AHDB chief communications officer, said: “The industry has held a mirror up to itself and listened to what consumers are telling us and we are committed to the highest possible standards.”

AHDB figures

According to the AHDB, around 60,000 dairy bull calves are euthanised on farms each year, equivalent to around 15% of all bull calves born on UK dairy farms.

But a big increase in the use of sexed semen in recent years instead of conventional semen has enabled dairy farmers to ensure a better supply of dairy replacement heifers. Sexed semen can reduce the proportion of male calves being born to less than 10%.

According to the AHDB, sales of sexed semen made up more than 50% of all dairy semen sales in the 12 months to March 2020.

NFU: ‘Own goal’

NFU dairy chairman Michael Oakes said: “We have been working alongside the AHDB, Red Tractor to pull some solutions together [to end dairy calf euthanasia].

“Personally, I think calves that could go into the food chain being euthanised at birth is an own goal. It is necessary to protect the reputation of the industry.” 

But Mr Oakes urged the supply chain to work with dairy industry to explain the sort of animals they want farmers to rear and finish and to make commitments to take different types of meats. 

“Beef farmers are worried that dairy farmers will flood the market with cheap beef. But we import a lot of beef and this could displace that.” 

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