Animal Justice Project

What happens to male calves born to dairy cow mothers? Ayrton Cooper from Animal Justice Project explains

It is well-known that male dairy calves are a 'by-product' of the dairy industry: 60,000 are killed each year in the UK and others are exported overseas. In 2019, 3,446 calves were exported. But with over one million calves born in the UK each year on dairy farms, where are the majority of them going?

Many female calves will be kept within the dairy industry to replace the 'spent' dairy cows - who are often only six or seven years old before being deemed not proficiently 'productive' enough and being sent for slaughter.

These female calves will enter the same fate of exploitation as their own mothers. Some are kept in calf hutches where from just a couple of days old they will remain for many weeks alone in all weather conditions with no mother to comfort them.

But the males are relatively worthless to dairy farmers. It can cost more to raise a male dairy calf than what the farmer will gain in return, so they are usually sold on or killed. A 'kinder' option is marketed by the industry instead of getting rid of these new-borns.

The 'Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum' in 2013 - a collaboration among Non- Governmental Organisations and stakeholders (supermarkets, welfare boards, farming groups) - created an initiative to reduce the number of exports of male dairy calves as well as the number being shot on farm.

This brought about the integration of the dairy and beef industries. An increasing number of male calves are traded in large markets and sent to beef farms for fattening.

A shocking statistic, and one which is largely unknown, is that 50-60 per cent of the British beef herd at any one time is made up of male dairy calves. The dairy industry fuels the beef industry and the calf traders - who buy and sell these calves - provide a vital income for dairy farmers.

\"If you buy dairy products, you are fuelling beef farms with every purchase\"

These two industries are heavily reliant on one another and it is likely that they could not function effectively without each other.

If you buy dairy products, you are fuelling beef farms with every purchase. Calf trading in the UK is booming. Millions of pounds are made each year as young calves are bought and sold through traders.

Calves who have been freshly taken from their grieving mothers on dairy farms are sent to collection centres or markets around the country to be auctioned off to beef farmers or collected by traders and exporters.

Tens of thousands of calves are sent directly to slaughter from the markets or collection yards. These are calves who are either surplus to requirements or deemed 'not healthy enough' to enter the beef system or to be exported.

Calves who were exported by large lorries could face journeys of up to 50 hours without adequate food and water. Their destination was Spain where they would be fattened for beef or veal. Buying British dairy supports the Spanish fattening industry.

Large UK traders include Meadow Quality and Buitelaar. They are key in taking calves from the dairy industry and putting them into the beef industry. Over one million every year reach this fate.

They have created this widespread integration and are profiting from the mass-scale exploitation of babies. These large traders remain relatively unknown to the general public but are linked with many major outlets.

\"50-60 per cent of the British beef herd at any one time is made up of male dairy calves\"

For example, Buitelaar is part of Arla's '360' programme, which enables dairy farmers to sell calves into the calf rearing units of Buitelaar, which, in turn, supplies meat to Morrisons including 'rose veal'. This giant corporation trades in 50,000 calves each year through two collection centres nationwide.

Another large trader, Meadow Quality, trades in 50,000 calves between its two collection centres and has an annual turnover of over £80 million. Animal Justice Project's (AJP) 'EXPIRED' campaign highlights this relationship and the abuse which awaits these male dairy calves once traded into the beef industry.

It is vital to emphasise that more than half of British beef cows originate here: dairy equals beef. AJP carried out an undercover investigation which filmed over a period of five months at two Red Tractor Assured farms. The first was a calf rearing farm, Badgers Cross Farm, in Somerset.

This industrial-scale farm houses up to 1,100 calves at a time and rears up to 4,500 each year. Despite its Red Tractor Assurance and 'high welfare' standards, we filmed workers hitting, slapping, kicking and dragging calves by their legs. The young, fragile and distressed babies were shown no mercy as they cried out.

Naturally, these calves would be by their mothers' sides and instead, they are locked in pens in large numbers and given milk sometimes just once per day. DEFRA states that 'People who care for livestock should demonstrate skilled, conscientious stockmanship and considerate handling' - a rule flouted by Badgers Cross' owner and workers.

Once calves are reared to around three months old, they are sent on to fattening farms. Berryfields farm is a beef 'mega farm' located in Daventry, Northamptonshire. It is a huge farm, much bigger than traditional beef farms.

This is where AJP filmed over a period of five months. It operates on a giant scale, rearing up to 4,500 animals a year. It is a zero-grazing farm - they never go out to pasture - despite the farm being surrounded by green fields. Instead, they are made to live their lives in concrete pens with little to no bedding.

During our time filming, we never saw a fresh straw bed being put down once, not even in the 'hospital pen' where the sick and injured were left to suffer. Many of the individuals in the outer pens have no adequate shelter whatsoever.

Berryfields Farm feeds its animals on a high concentrate feed to fatten them as fast as possible - this feeding system is associated with issues including fast growing hooves - something which was commonplace.

The calves which enter this farm will be fattened and sent to slaughter at 12-18 months old. The suffering we filmed was abhorrent and heart breaking. This will never be the 'kinder option'. No comfort, no enrichment, no mercy.

A squalid and barren 'hospital pen' was where the sick, lame and those in desperate need of care were dumped. Lame individuals were even loaded for slaughter - a regulation breach. In total, 23 Red Tractor and DEFRA breaches were filmed at this facility.

The abuse from the workers themselves was commonplace. Individuals were kicked, punched, slapped, hit with sticks and had buckets thrown in their faces.

They were verbally abused on a daily basis, with workers shouting and swearing to scare them into moving - much of the time they had nowhere to escape to.

They were oft en highly distressed and panicking. This life in not a 'kinder option' for any individual. The fate of male dairy calves is a year-long life of misery. Ultimately, we must end these industries. There is no right way to exploit anyone.


The dairy industry discarding these calves, under pressure from the public, are sending them into the fattening system. The dairy industry is largely to blame for creating a life of misery for so many, but this blame also falls on consumers, too, who have pushed for less male calves to be shot on farms. Rather than finding different methods to exploit these individuals, we should be concentrating on ending the exploitation altogether.

For more information, visit expiredcampaign.org

Words by Ayrton Cooper, senior campaigner for animaljusticeproject.com


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