June 13, 2015
By Michelle Hackett
Ethical milk – can it exist?
The answer, of course, is entirely dependent on your own personal ethical framework. The easiest way to know that you’re not supporting businesses and practices that harm animals in the dairy industry is to become vegan. But there are also many people who, for various reasons, don’t want to or aren’t yet ready to become vegan, but do still care about the treatment of animals. If you are one of these people, then this article is for you.
For my own reasons, I am vegetarian but not yet ready to become vegan. I’ve largely cut out cheese, yoghurt and cream, but I really dislike the taste of all milk alternatives in my tea! This (among other personal reasons) means that I still want a cow’s milk option, one which is less harmful, if that’s at all possible. So, I decided to start with emailing the dairy companies in WA to ask them about their Bobby Calf practices.
In order for cows to keep lactating they, like all mammals, need to have young. The newborn calves (especially male calves) called bobby calves, have litte commercial value for the dairy producer, and are often quickly sold off and/or killed. It is the treatment of these bobby calves which has raised a lot of public outcry. See RSPCA for more information.
The point of this article is not to judge the dairies myself, but to simply post up my research into their practices and regulations and let everyone decide for themselves. I’ve started by contacting a few of the smaller dairies, with Brownes and Harvey Fresh yet to come. If anyone has any information about this topic, please post it here as a comment.
Firstly, I did a search for government regulations on the dairy industry in WA, and found a few sets of rules- with the most recent being the 2004 “Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Cattle 2nd Edition” from dlg.wa.gov.au. The regulations state (pp.21-22) that bobby calves cannot be sold until at least 5 days old; that they should have access to food within 6 hours before transportation to the saleyards; and then not be held longer than 10 hours without being fed in the salesyard, with feeds every 24 hours after that. The regulations also specify that the calves should be treated humanely, with no kicking, dumping, electric goading etc; and that the salesyard should be roofed and have a clean, sealed non-slip floor etc.
Dairy farmers in WA
Next, I started emailing dairy farmers in WA to ask what their practices were concerning bobby calves on their farms. Pasted below are all the responses I have so far. For some dairies, there was enough information on their website that I didn’t need to email them. From others, though, I didn’t receive much information at all unfortunately.
20/5/2015 4:48 PM
We leave our calves with their mother for 3 days, then bucket rear all our calves for about 3 months till weaning.
Peter and Lisa Togno
Owners of Margaret River Organic Creameries
8/5/2015 9:40 AM
Good Morning Michelle,
Thank you for your enquiry. To put your mind at ease, the practise of slaughtering young male bobby calves is nonexistent in Western Australia.
The practises of our dairy suppliers in particular are as follows;
Calves stay on the mum for the first 2 days
After that, they are removed from the mums but continued to be fed mothers colostrum for another 2 weeks. They are then fed normal cow’s milk up until 3 months of age
From 3 months on, they are paddock & grain fed until they are sold as Steers (18-24 months) for beef. The female calves are treated the same but remain on the farm for breeding and future milk production. …
Receptionist & Retail Assistant
Mundella Foods Pty Ltd
There was quite a lot of information on the Bannister Downs website- so I have pasted that here.
Interestingly, Gina Rinehart has bought into Bannister Downs – which will enable them to upgrade and expand their milk production. It is more difficult for the big dairy farmers to regulate ethical treatment of their animals, so I will be keen to see how Bannister Downs (which is the only dairy farm I have found which promotes its “ethical dairy”) copes with this in the future.
Our calves all remain with their mothers for a minimum of 48 hours so they receive a good feed of colostrum, before their Mums head off to be part of the dairy herd. We then hand rear all of our calves. We have automatic calf feeding stations with daily volume limits so they don’t over drink and then make themselves sick. However, they can come and drink small amounts as frequently as they like and their milk is warmed up for them too. We only use fresh cow’s milk to feed our babies via these stations from the cows in the morning milking (instead of re-constituted milk powder).
Our girl and boy calves are all given the same care. We generally rear our bobby (male) calves until a minimum of 3 months of age, at which time we either hold onto them (if we have pasture available), or, we on-sell them to another farmer rearing steers if space is a little short. We are always mindful of having plenty of pasture available for our dairy herd which always get priority.