Dirty dairy farming: The unreported cruelty

Australia commit to ending routine induced abortions in dairy cows

Calves beaten to death. Image J Flowers

Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) have committed to phasing out the practice of routine inducement of calves. The announcement was made in August 2015 and coincides with the New Zealand dairy farming ban on routine abortions which came into effect in June this year.

ADF has come out with a strong statement on the new policy: The Australian dairy industry does not support routine calving induction and is working to phase it out through improved genetics, herd management practices, tools and technologies.

Adverse public opinion to induced abortions followed an outcry earlier this year when a video was released which showed a farm worker beating a calfto death on a New Zealand owned farm in Chile.

Although New Zealand(NZ) is to be commended for taking the lead in stopping the intentional birthing of thousands of premature calves each year, the dairy farmers in that country had been doing so for over 30 years.

Noel Houghton, a Gordonton, NZ dairy farmer was one of the first farmers to induce late term cows in the late 1970's. He recommended the practice to his neighbours. By 2010 when the first expose by TVNZ hit the headlines millions of calves had died in what were perceived to be barbaric conditions.

In Australia, as it was in New Zealand, calf inductions are done to bring all the cows into lactation within a given period. According to animal rights advocacy group Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) this is simply done to “suit dairy farmers’ milking schedules.”

It has been alleged that it is done so farmers can start earning money early in the season. Farmers deny this and claim that they do it to maximize feed and pasture availability.

[Photo] J. Flowers Replacement calves at auto-feeder. The lucky ones that get to live.

During the process of induction, a veterinarian gives pregnant cows two injections. This causes the cow to abort the calf prematurely. Many of the calves are born dead but they often survive birth. These calves are then killed on-farm.

The number of Australian farmers who carry out inductions have been decreasing over the past few years as they recognize that perceptions of good animal management have changed: However, according to Mr. David Basham of the animal health and welfare committee for Australian Dairy Farmers, 1.3 per cent of the national dairy herd is still induced annually.

It has taken New Zealand five years to phase out the routine inductions and will probably take as much time, if not more, for Australia to stop them. According to SAFE, as many as 200,000 calves are induced in NZ annually. All of these calves would have died on the farms either from weakness or at the hands of farm workers.

Much of the public repugnance to the practice surrounds the issues of how those calves are killed, rather than focusing on the fact that induced abortions happen at all. Many of them are just beaten to death and are then discarded. (Caution the link above is graphic and sensitive viewers should not watch the video. It was not filmed in Australia or New Zealand but indicates the shocking on-farm methods of calf disposal that some farmers practice.)

Credit: Mercy for animals