Producers face kill decisions on culls and calves

Friday, 03 September, 1999

By Emma Penny

SHEEP and dairy producers worried about dealing with worthless cull ewes and Holstein bull calves are urged not to dump them, and to consider dispatch and disposal options and their legal implications.

With autumn calving fast approaching, and many sheep producers desperate to get rid of cull ewes, anyone in a quandary about what to do with stock should contact their local NFU office, says livestock policy adviser Carol Lloyd.

“These offices keep a register of contacts who will take and dispose of calves or cull ewes.

“Some knackers and hunt kennels will take animals for nothing, while others are charging £3-11 to kill and remove animals. The charges cover disposal costs as it costs about £3 an animal to have them incinerated or rendered.”

Dairy calves killed on-farm within 36 hours of birth – or within 30 days in the case of beef calves – do not need eartags or a passport.

If they are moved off the farm alive – even to a knackery – they must have two official eartags with matching numbers on them, and a temporary passport matching the eartag number.

But some producers, already having to cope with depressed profitability, are considering dispatching calves and ewes themselves, but this should be viewed as a last resort, says Humane Slaughter Association technical officer Charlie Mason.

“The preferable option is to have a hunt or knackerman kill the animals and take them away. But not everyone is in that situation, and so some may be forced to kill animals themselves.”

However, Ms Lloyd warns that where killing calves on-farm is to be routine, it could be considered as a commercial operation which requires a slaughtermans licence.

“NFU lawyers recommend seeking professional advice before slaughtering without holding a current slaughtermans licence. For this reason, we recommend using a licensed slaughterman to dispatch stock on-farm.”

But where this is the chosen option on dairy farms approaching calving, Mr Mason advises setting up a system of dealing with unwanted calves before calving begins.

“If the calf price picks up before then, hopefully you wont have to do this, but if you are going to kill animals on-farm, get your system sorted out now.”

An HSA leaflet, Humane Dispatch and Disposal of Infant Calves, says it is better to deal with unwanted calves immediately rather than leaving them without food for any length of time.

Mr Mason says a suitable firearm is the most humane method of killing animals; external trauma such as a heavy blow to the head using a blunt instrument is not an option, and may lead to prosecution. More details on suitable firearms and their use are available in the HSAs leaflet.

Carcass disposal can also cause concern, and disposing through slaughtermen or hunts is the best option, says Ms Lloyd.

“It is a contentious issue; while MAFFs Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water sets out the practical requirements for burying carcasses, the Animal By-Products Order 1999 states that burial can only be carried out where access is difficult or the distance to the renderer or incinerator does not justify transport.

“Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the rules, and some will take a harder line than others. Ensure you take the order into account before deciding how to dispose of carcasses as some areas in Britain are opposed to any burial on-farm,” she warns.

The HSAs leaflet is available from the Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampsted, Herts AL4 8AN.

The NFU has also produced information on welfare at slaughter and stock disposal which is available from regional offices.

Both organisations caution that dispatching calves on-farm can cause psychological trauma to producers, their families and farm staff. Anyone who is having difficulty coping should contact the Samaritans (0345-909090) or use the phone number in your local telephone directory.

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