Dairy farms need female cows to produce milk, so the birth of male calves can present problems for which there are few solutions. In the past male calves have been disposed of either by farmers themselves or by a licensed slaughterer, by selling the calf to be raised for the food chain or sold for live export. The live export market, particularly for farmers in England, has effectively disappeared due to public protests causing industry pressure.
Under new welfare rules the ‘routine euthanasia’ of calves will be banned and UK dairy farmers have until the end of 2021 to prove they no longer kill male calves that are born on their farms. These rules apply to all farms registered with the Red Tractor standards (covering around 95% of milk production). Cost is a significant issue, with early disposal providing the cheapest option to deal with unwanted stock as the cost of raising the calf to a sufficient weight for sale often outweighs the market value (and associated costs of sale) of the calf.
It is estimated that around 95,000 calves are disposed of on the farm shortly after birth, representing around 19% of male calves born. If these calves are to be kept longer, then farmers need to start planning now to ensure they have the space to keep them until it is financially viable to sell them on to other markets. Additionally, there are companies that will collect calves from dairy farms to rear on for sale at around 12-14 months to supermarkets and restaurants. Supermarkets could play a vital role in this, particularly if a potential post BREXIT trade deal enables cheaper (lower welfare) beef imports.
The Calf Forum, a joint initiative comprised of representatives from retail, farming and the Government to explore viable solutions to enable economically viable solutions for male calves, reported in 2013. Although no longer in existence, the Forum estimated that over £100 million was being lost from early killed male calves.
There are calls from the RSPCA, and celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, to rename veal as rose beef to end consumer misconceptions about how veal calves are raised in order to potentially increase demand. Alternatively, these calves could be kept longer and sold as beef, but this will need extra housing, which if farmers intend to do as a longer-term option, will require strategic planning around management and housing. Planning considerations around this option will take time to implement, from the planning stage to completed build, so these decisions cannot be left.
There is potential for farmers with dual purpose breeds that are good for milking and meat production to keep male calves with their mothers for around five months. The milk yield is lost but a much better market price can be obtained for the calves for veal production. There are alternatives, such as reducing the number of male calves through the use of sexed semen. However, this does not achieve 100% so there will always be male calves to deal with, albeit a greatly reduced number (around 10%). A combination of supermarket support, sexed semen and planning to raise male calves until they can be sold on to the food chain means farmers strategic forward planning needs to happen now in order to comply with the new rules by the end of 2021.
The assistance of an experienced ‘rural’ consultant able to help identify farm planning options will be key and it should be kept in mind that for full planning applications it is prudent to allow 10-12 weeks to prepare, submit and get an application through. This can be longer if there are conditions to manage. Combine this with actually sourcing and building and it means it is important to consider options as early as possible to make sure dairy farmers are ready….
If you need help, do get in touch! My qualification as a Rural Surveyor, Chartered Town Planner and a Fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers means I can fully manage the whole process (from writing justification, sourcing plans, preparing and submitting application) to the point you are ready to build with as little stress as possible.