By Dale Bakke
Starting as a young boy and through college, I had the opportunity to work on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. I watched and observed the dedication my neighbor invested into his farm and caring for the cows we milked and the calves we raised. I had my share of questions and suggestions for how we did things back then. Often, the neighbor’s wisdom and experience outweighed some of my ideas. Other times, my neighbor and mentor appreciated the new insight.
Continuous improvement is core to those who farm and raise livestock. It is something I have always valued and I see in our association members today. Member companies and farms who raise veal reached a milestone as 2018 began when they achieved the transition to group-housing for veal calves over ten weeks of age. Today, there are a variety of different facilities to house veal calves in groups ranging from two up to groups of ten or more. These facilities allow for the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, which is the international standard for assessing expression of normal behavior in animals.
“The health and well-being of the calves has been and will continue to be a priority,” said calf veterinarian, Dr. Marissa Hake. “Newborn calves need special attention to grow and thrive. It was important that the desire to move calves to group pens did not sacrifice the need for individual care and attention. We found calves individually penned for the first 8-10 weeks is still optimal for calf health, just as is standard in heifer and beef raising.”
Continuous improvement and innovation to do what’s right and best for the calves entrusted to our care is at the heart of the veal farmers and industry leaders I know. That’s why I was personally disheartened to learn about the video released by an animal rights activist organization this week – for two reasons: First -- Animal abuse is never acceptable. Second – AVA-member company, Midwest Veal LLC is depicted in the video with one of their remaining outdated nursery facilities for newborn calves. Unfortunately, how veal calves are raised today is not accurately reflected in the video. Additionally, it does not represent the values and dedication I know to be true of Midwest Veal. They are a family company who has a history of dedication and continuous improvement for the veal calves they raise.
I encourage you to read Midwest Veal’s full statement here.
I invite you to continue to visit our website. Watch our video Meet America's Veal Farmers. Ask questions. We are open for dialog. And like my experience with my neighbor, be open minded and respectful of the wisdom and knowledge in the explanations for how and why we do what we do to raise healthy veal calves. That has and will continue to be our top priority.
This incident is also a very unfortunate reminder to our veal farmers to be very cautious towards those who want to work on our farms. In rural America it is our nature to trust people, and while we will continue to believe the best in people, thorough training and supervision must continue to ensure the same values we have for our animals are practiced in the actions of those who work on our farms. For additional information on the Veal Quality Assurance program visit the Veal Farm website.