Waste and the flesh run

UK - Pressure on milk prices has turned healthy male calves into the disposable scraps of dairy farming
calendar icon 8 May 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
The flesh run is what huntsmen call their daily round of collecting unwanted animals from nearby farms to feed to their hounds. These days, most of the animals they are called to remove are not sick but healthy newborn male calves - byproducts of the dairy industry. They have no market value and so farmers invite the kennels to shoot them and take them away.

While some 700 hours of parliamentary time were devoted to the cruel fate of the fox before Labour introduced a ban on hunting with dogs in 2005, there has been precious little discussion about this disturbing new routine. Farmers are angry about it, as was made abundantly clear by those who appeared on Molly Dineen's lyrical and brutal documentary film about rural life, The Lie of the Land, which was shown on Channel 4 last week. They were not, the farmers said, brought up to shoot healthy animals at birth. We should be angry, too, but for the most part we choose not to ask who really pays for our cheap intensive food policy.

Dairy cows must give birth to produce milk. Female calves used to go into the milking herd, while males were reared for beef. "That was the natural order of things," as Ian, the gentle kennelman from the Cury Hunt in Cornwall, explained in the film. Today he is skilled enough to shoot a calf dead so quickly and silently it is over before you understand what is happening. You absorb the shock as he pulls off the calves' skins and feeds the flesh to the dogs.

Until the 1950s, farms generally bred cows for both dairy and beef production, but then breeds became increasingly specialised. In the past 20 years what is known as high production genetics has taken over. Dairy cows have been bred to produce ever higher yields of milk. A suckler cow feeding one calf would produce about 10 litres of milk a day, but now on efficient dairy farms a Holstein cow can be expected to produce more than 70 litres. John Webster, emeritus professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol, has described this high-yielding modern cow as the archetypal exhausted mother. Her mammary glands have been bred to make more milk than her body can cope with. She feels, he says, simultaneously hungry, tired, full up and sick. Breeding for maximum milk yield has left these cows unfit for much else. As many as half of all dairy cows may go painfully lame in any one year after being made to stand on concrete, their udders too heavy for their hind legs. Mastitis (infection of the udder) and infertility are common. A few decades ago, the average lifespan of a cow was 10 lactations. Today it is three.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.