by Cliff Grant
This spring, an unprecedented 1.6 million dairy calves are due to be born in Ireland. About half of them (800,000) will be male.
It’s a scandal of an unimaginable scale.
Imagine, just for a minute that you are one of those baby boys. This is the true story of your short and brutal life.
Day 1. As soon as you are born and your mum has licked you dry, you are immediately torn away from her…. something that is difficult for you to understand but arguably much worse for her. Colostrum will be collected from your mum and delivered to you and the other calves by stomach tubing. You will be restrained, a tube will be pushed down your throat and you will be aggressively force-fed.
Days 1 to 10. Calving season is a time of death in Ireland. In 2019, according to the Irish Government, almost 41,000 calves were stillborn. Under six weeks old, some 13,750 or so male dairy calves died on farms and approximately 16,000 were killed at local slaughterhouses. To put that into scale, about 525 female dairy calves of the same age were killed.
‘Informal slaughter’ is very common on Irish farms. Males are killed by shooting, hammer blows to the head or by suffocation in plastic bags. (A vet visit for a sick calf can cost a farmer €150. Some male dairy calves sold for as little as €0.50 in 2018.)
Day 11. If you’ve made it past the first 10 days, you and the other males will now leave the farm. (Irish Regulations state that all calves must be cared for on farms for a minimum of ten days.) The faster you leave, the less food you require, the less financial outlay for the farmer. About 40 percent of males will be sold to the beef trade. Pure dairy breed males (Holsteins and Friesians) have little value and will be sold for live export where they can fetch €30 to €60 per head. Last year, over 250,000 baby calves were sent on live exports from Irish shores. In 2020 the total will be thousands more, with Irish farmers welcoming expansion into North African markets.
Day 14. You have been loaded onto a truck with dozens of other baby calves and are now on a ship to Europe. You’ve had no milk replacer for over 24 hours. Once in France, drivers are legally obliged to rest and feed you at what are known as “lairage” areas, but most don’t bother. Some calf trucks that are monitored do not stop for 32 hours or more.
Day 16. You have arrived at a veal farm (Dutch, Spanish or Italian) tired, hungry and afraid. Your total journey took four days. You will spend the rest of your short life in a veal pen. The only time you will ever see daylight again is on your way to the slaughterhouse, where a cruel stranger will pull a knife across your throat.
So… let me ask you – Who is to blame for all this cruelty? Who really are the heartless ones?
Those who breed them, those who transport them; those who sell them; those who slaughter them…
…or those who consume meat and dairy products?
- The Guardian: ‘It would be kinder to shoot them.’: Ireland’s calves set for live export
- Irish Examiner: Almost 30,000 calves slaughtered at 10 days old last year
- Farming Independent: ‘1.5 million dairy calves is a challenge the sector needs to consider’ – Creed
- Agriland.ie: Boatload of bulls bound for Libya next month
- Agriland.ie: Irish dairy and livestock trade mission kicks off in Algeria
- Annual Review and Outlook for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 2019