There is growing concern in our industry about the welfare of bobby calves. Although they are a by-product of dairying, and destined for an early demise, they are living animals in our care, and are entitled to certain basic welfare rights. Bobbys are covered by the Animal Welfare Codes of Practice (see the MAF website).
The meat industry have set a target of 0.7% daily death rate for bobbys (during transport, in the yards at the plant, or condemned as unfit on arrival). Last season only 50% of plants met this target, and some days deaths reached up to 3.5%. They regard this as unacceptable.
Major areas of concern are:
· Age of calves – nothing should go at less than four days
· Adequate feeding – bobbys need to be properly fed. This means they should receive colostrum in the same way heifer replacements do. They should be fed at least half of their daily food ration within a couple of hours of leaving for the slaughter plant, to help them withstand the journey.
· Don’t treat them with antibiotics, feed them Scourban, or give them milk from cows being treated with antibiotics.
· Their collection pen (often isolated from the main calf rearing area to prevent disease transmission) needs to be as dry, sheltered and well bedded as that of the heifers.
· Navels should be shrivelled and dry
They are newborn babies! They are vulnerable with immature immune systems and they are physiologically compromised. They deserve good care, right up until the time of slaughter.
Destruction of bobbys on farm must also be done humanely. They must become unconscious or die immediately. This can be achieved by shooting in the head with a rifle, shotgun or captive bolt gun. You should aim for the centre of the forehead at the cross formed by drawing a line between each eye and the opposite ear. If you are using a shotgun, it should be done outside where scatter will be minimised
The captive bolt is a quick, safe and easy alternative, and can be purchased through us. You do not require a firearms licence. If you are using a heavy hammer, ensure the person doing it has the strength, stamina and knowledge to make a quick, clean blow every time.
As with a heavy blow to the head, a calf stunned with the captive bolt should immediately be bled out by cutting the throat with a sharp, stiff knife. The cut should be from ear to ear, severing the wind pipe and all major blood vessels and exposing the spinal cord.
At the end of the procedure there should be no heartbeat, no breathing, and no blink reflex.
Cutting the throat of a calf without first stunning it is unacceptable. The unusual nature of the blood supply to the bovine brain means it can receive oxygen (remain alive and distressed) for some time after you think the throat is adequately cut.
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