There are more than 1.6 million dairy cows in Australia. Each cow produces an average of 5,000 litres of milk a year. In contrast to the intensive nature of dairy production overseas, where cows may be housed in sheds for their entire lives, most Australian dairy cattle spend at least part of the day on green pasture. Nevertheless, there are welfare problems that may affect both cows and calves.
You can help dairy cows in Australia by contacting the makers of your favourite dairy products and asking them their standard of care for cows and calves.
Bobby calves - In order to produce milk; a dairy cow needs to be pregnant or lactating. The majority of male calves and some females are surplus to the farmer’s needs. These ‘bobby calves’ are separated from their mother shortly after birth, hand fed then transported to slaughter at a mere 5 days old – an age at which they are not equipped to withstand the rigors of transport. The dairy supply chain allows calves to be off feed for 30 hours and transported for up to 12 hours. The RSPCA position is that if bobby calves cannot be euthanased on farm, they should be at least 10 days old before being transported off farm and then slaughtered within 12 hours of last feed. Alternatively, excess dairy calves could be reared for veal.
Calving induction - If a calf is due to be born outside the desired time for calving, the mother will be induced. This means the calf will be born prematurely, risking the health of the mother and baby.
Dehorning and disbudding - In a bid to avoid injury to people or other animals, the dairy industry recommends removing the buds or if not done soon enough, the horns, from calves. The problem is that these procedures are performed without the use of anaesthetic or pain relief.
Lameness - Dairy cows may have to walk a long way, over rough tracks from the paddock to the milking shed then stand for extended periods on concrete floors. This makes lameness a painful problem for many dairy cows.
Mastitis - Around 5% of dairy cows in a herd may suffer from clinical mastitis, a severely painful and potentially fatal condition related to hygiene, milking procedures and nutrition.
Tail docking - Around 9% of farmers still routinely dock the tails of their dairy cows despite evidence that it's totally unnecessary. The painful procedure is performed without anaesthetic. Shortening the tail prevents the cow from protecting herself against fly bites.
Live export of dairy heifers – Each year many tens of thousands of dairy cattle are shipped overseas for breeding. Export standards allow pregnant animals to travel on these stressful journeys. Heifers may be sent to countries where poor animal handling, transport and slaughter are routine practice and where they are susceptible to diseases against which they have not been vaccinated.
You can help improve conditions for dairy cows in Australia. Contact the makers of your favourite dairy products and ask them about conditions of care for cows and calves.
The welfare of bobby calves is a concern. Find out how you can make a difference.