The practice of rearing, transport and slaughter of excess dairy calves, in particular bobby calves, is often negatively perceived by the public. From the farmers’ perspective, there is very little use for bull calves and therefore they want to dispose of them as quickly as possible. This should be done as humanely as possible and therefore the project of the Dairy Standard Agency (DSA) as cited below has the intention to improve humane handling of dairy calves over the next five years in a way that is measurable.

The following methodology is envisaged:

  1. The DSA’s dairy farm audits include a section on the housing, handling, feeding and welfare of dairy calves. Results show that the vast majority of audited farms comply with 95% of the standards, implying that farms improve if they are audited. Therefore, the intention is to involve more farms in the audit.
  2. The minimum standards for welfare of the SABS will be revised in consultation with the dairy sector, in order to be even more effective if possible.
  3. Calf seller/buyer agreements will be compiled and provided to dairy farmers which should raise awareness of minimum standards when transporting un-weaned calves.
  4. The DSA dairy auditors will be issued with an extensive list of welfare standards to assess on every farm. The farmer will be consulted to establish where he/she is comfortable to improve and then assessed at the next annual audit to see if he/she has managed to comply with the agreed improvements. This process will be repeated annually and the results collated to assess the percentage improvement achieved against the set targets every year.

The difference in the level of compliance with minimum standards have been noticeable if farms that are not participating in the DSA’s dairy farm audit are visited. Farms that are audited for the first time generally score significantly lower than farms that have been audited at least twice. The willingness of farmers to comply is evident by the second audit already, while the uptake of the calf seller/buyer agreements has also start showing improvement in transport standards.

In conclusion, it is not possible to put a monetary value on these inputs, but the value in terms of improved public perception should be immense. In addition, the main beneficiaries of this programme are the livestock themselves through improved welfare awareness on the dairy farms.