Our top 4 questions to ask for better welfare for dairy cows and calves

Have you walked through the aisles of the supermarket, looking at the yogurt, milk, and cheese options and wondering which one is better in terms of the welfare of animals? If so, you’re not all on your own. We’re aware that many Australians are keen to promote better interest in farming and are seeking out labels on their products to guide their choices. Sometimes, it’s simple, like looking for cage-free eggs and the RSPCA-approved certification for chickens – however, other times, it’s not so simple. What’s the deal with dairy? The positive side is that showing your commitment to the welfare of livestock in the dairy industry can be as simple as asking your favorite dairy brand four questions.

About 1.4 million milking cows are living on farms across the country, and every one of them will produce a calf each year to continue producing milk. Female calves are usually taken to be part of the herd that milk, while male calves that do not produce milk are, in reality, a byproduct from dairy farms. This means that each year, around 400,000 replacement calves (also called Bobby’s calves) are born in the dairy industry to be killed before they’re even a week old.

Animal welfare in dairy

While Australia has extensive indoor dairy production systems, the majority of Australian dairy cows spend their time in the open on pasture. There are, however, a few crucial concerns regarding the welfare of animals that affect cows as well as calves in the dairy industry.

One of the biggest concerns is the way bobby calves are taken care of on farms, during transport, as well as at slaughter. Although the calves are meant for slaughter, they must be taken care of in a manner that is suited to their requirements and takes into account their vulnerability because they’re so young. Additionally, a second market for calves in which they are raised until they reach an older age to be or as a beef or veal product offers the potential to boost the value of these animals and improve the welfare of animals if it is done properly. That’s the reason, as an element of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, the RSPCA has an animal welfare standard applicable to milk calves. Farmers who are raising dairy calves for beef or veal and would like to obtain an independent certificate to prove that they comply with an animal welfare requirement are eligible to join.

Another issue to consider is to find ways to lessen the stress that can occur by calves being separated from their mothers. This can include ensuring that calves are able to exhibit normal behaviors like nursing.

In the majority of dairy farms, calves must be removed from the mothers within 24 hours after birth. This is done to lower the chance of calves contracting illnesses and ensure calves are provided with enough colostrum. Separation can also be used to help with milking and management of cows. Studies have shown that the separation of the cow from her calves can be difficult for both of them at some given time. However, it is more stressful the longer they remain together. From the perspective of animal welfare, however, allowing calves to be raised by their mothers means that they are able to suckle, drink more frequently, and drink more. When they are kept together or have certain contact with each other, there are additional benefits for calves and cows that the RSPCA considers worthy of considering by the industry.

To ensure dairy cows have the best life possible, they should be well-nourished and protected from extreme weather, able to access pastures and have access to the range, be clear of ailment and Mastitis, and undergo painful procedures with no anesthetic or pain relief.


What is happening in the industry of dairy?

In 2012, the dairy industry announced 2012 the Australian Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework, and since then, they have been publically sharing their performance.

The commitments directly related to enhancing the welfare of animals were added in 2018, and the latest report shows improvements in the form of fewer farmers who tail dock calves and produce calves. Furthermore, there is a rise in farmers disbudding (removing the horn buds) calves when they’re less than two months old, and three out of four farmers use pain relief to do this. The best part is that more farmers are utilizing polled (hornless) genetics that remove the need to cut off horns. The report also indicates that farmers are employing strategies to decrease lameness and are also constructing infrastructure that keeps cows cool.

A commitment to care for calves born Bobby is also covered, and the most recent report shows there is a rise in the number of farms selling calves as five days old or more. The framework, however, doesn’t include a goal to decrease the amount of bobby calves that go to slaughter. Instead, it suggests alternative markets or targets for greater contact between a cow and a new calves.


What are you able to do?

If you purchase dairy, cheese, yogurt, as well as other dairy products, you can have a say in the way animal welfare is treated. When you ask questions regarding animal welfare and select brands that are transparent and open about their farming practices, you’re showing these companies that this is important to you. A key aspect of promoting better welfare in agriculture is recognizing that farmers must be compensated fairly for their work and that achieving higher standards of welfare costs more.


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