Posted on January 25, 2023

Not so long ago few people outside the animal agriculture community knew about ‘bobby calves’, the days-old dairy calves, mostly male and superfluous to the farmer’s requirements, who are either killed on farm or sent to the slaughterhouse.   I myself became vegan overnight when I learned about these bobbies.

Thanks to the campaigning of animal activists, the fate of bobby calves is now well known – and it’s a PR disaster for dairy farmers.  Nobody likes to think of frail baby animals being prised from their mothers and sent off to the Works, their umbilical cord often still attached.   It is little surprise that it’s a sensitive topic in the Industry, a very inconvenient truth that won’t go away.



In the latest of a string of changes aimed at eliminating the worst abuses and improving the image of dairying, Fonterra have stated that from June farmers are prohibited from killing calves on the farm, unless the calf is sick. In the news item that aired on New Zealand TV last night, I was gobsmacked when mid Canterbury dairy farmer Paul Everest stated “(The calves) live an awesome four days, and then they’re down to the processor.”  Yes you heard right.  The baby cows, with a natural lifespan of up to 20 years, had four entire days to enjoy their existence, confined in a shed, pining for their mothers, sucking milk from an artificial teet before going to have their throats cut.  Awesome?  I don’t think so.

A few decades ago it was common for  a farmer to  take a hammer or crowbar to the heads of calves. Once bludgeoned they were then placed at the farmgate for collection, tossed into a grave, burned, or composted, all M.I.T. approved methods of dairy calf disposal.  Then, in 2014, disturbing footage emerged of an award winning NZ farmer showing farm hands how to bludgeon calves to death in a NZ owned dairy operation in Chile.  The bloodbath created a public backlash both in Chile and New Zealand, and in 2016 blunt force trauma to the head of dairy calves became illegal in this country.  It was still fine for farmers to kill them on farm, but they had to be shot.

The irony is that this new law, that is also aimed at the eco lobby who like ‘everything to be used’, will be even harder on the baby calves.  Even more of the approximately 2 million calves killed every year in New Zealand will be forced to undertake long, uncomfortable truck journies, hungry, anxious, and unstable on their little legs, only to confront the horror of the slaughterhouse and have their lives destroyed.

This move by Fonterra is dumb.  Firstly, a prime time news item talking about sending babies to have their throat cut is no way to improve their image.  Secondly, the new law could well backfire on them.  Farmers are paid next to nothing for bobby calves by the slaughterhouse, and the cost and logistics of transporting them will be more of a burden.  Who knows?  Farmers could end up deciding they’ve had enough and go out of business.


Sandra Kyle, Editor, May Safely Graze