One of the most shocking practices in the dairy industry is the induction of healthy, pregnant cows.

Tens of thousands of cows are forced to abort their calves six to eight weeks prematurely simply to suit farmers' milking schedules. This is so the whole herd can be brought into line with each other and begin producing milk at the same time, rather than inconveniencing farmers until they have all given birth naturally.

Calf suckle

About 40 per cent of New Zealand dairy farmers induce healthy cows, with veterinarians contracted to induce abortions by injection.

Approximately 100,000 calves are induced annually solely for economic gain, with serious welfare implications for the cow and calf.

The theory is that the calves will be born dead. However, premature calves can be born alive, (and with the right care could survive), requiring the farmer to kill them.

It was revealed in 2010 that even dairy giant Fonterra's then-CEO induces calves, although the company states that it is opposed to the controversial practice. Despite this and a statement from National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) in 2010 that induction "has the potential to affect the welfare of both cow and calf adversely", calf induction is still legal and practised in New Zealand.

Currently the industry finds it acceptable for farmers to induce 4% of their herds.

Forced Abortion

SAFE has called for induction to be banned immediately, unless there are pregnancy complications and it is in the interest of the pregnant cow.

"Forcing healthy cows to abort their babies, just so farmers can milk their cows earlier, is despicable," says SAFE Executive Director Hans Kriek. "Calves that are not stillborn are premature and in a very weak state. Farmers dispose of these premature calves by shooting them or crushing their skull with a hammer. Less fortunate calves are left in paddocks to die slowly. Cows bond strongly with their babies and the stress for the mothers who give birth to a dead or dying calf, must be enormous," says Hans.

Health problems in induced cows is also an issue. "It is common for the foetal membrane to be retained after the unnatural early birth and this can lead to infection or even death," says Hans.

SAFE is aware that many dairy farmers and veterinarians oppose induced calving and questions why any veterinarian would collaborate with this cruel practice in the first place.

"Most people believe that veterinarians are there to promote the health and wellbeing of animals," says Hans.

"I am sure the public would be appalled that veterinarians are involved with a practice that deliberately inflicts suffering on healthy animals. It is clear that for some in the veterinary profession making money is more important than the welfare of animals. SAFE hopes that with publicity, more veterinarians will speak out against these unethical calf inductions."


Welfare concerns

Induction is a process to get late calving cows to calve up to ten weeks earlier than they naturally would. This results in the birth of premature dead or dying calves. Many farmers have stopped inducing because they hated seeing and having to deal with these calves.

The only reason it has not become an issue with our overseas market is because most overseas consumers are oblivious to the practice. However we cannot expect this to continue, especially given the ubiquitous nature of the internet. All it needs is for someone to put a video of dead and dying premature calves on Youtube and for a few key people to view them. Overseas reaction to the practice is that of abhorrence. It is possible to find blogs of foreigners working on New Zealand farms describing inductions in an unfavourable light.

Another example that highlights foreign aversion to inductions is that a few years ago an overseas pharmaceutical company discovered that we were using their product for inductions and they promptly refused to supply it.

The practice is associated with animal welfare issues, namely increased disease in the cow and the birth of immature calves that are unlikely to survive. Occasionally there is a justified medical reason for inducing (a good example would be small heifers carrying massive calves), but the majority of the time it is used as management tool by farmers to tighten up the calving spread.

Flouting the rules

A big issue with the induction code [recommended standards within the 2005 Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle] is that some veterinarians apply the guidelines stringently and others only very loosely.

This has led to clients switching veterinary practices because one firm will induce their cows and another will not. This causes a lot of ill feeling within the profession. Some veterinarians, particularly younger ones, have felt coerced into inducing cows that do not fall into the code.

On the whole, veterinarians are not good people to be overseeing compliance to this code. The veterinary profession is a service industry; we make our money by providing a service to farmers. There is a huge conflict between providing a service and enforcing rules. Given the service nature of the job, a number of veterinarians are prepared to bend the rules in order to provide a service.




The cruelty in a glass of milk



Please email the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and ask him to ban calf induction for management purposes immediately.

You can also write to the New Zealand Veterinary Association, PO Box 11212, Wellington 6142

Express your concern that veterinarians inflict deliberate suffering on the cows and their calves instead of looking after their welfare.



TVOne media thumb



Radio NZ  Dairy farmers phasing out induction of cows - survey

WATCH TV One - Fonterra boss admits cruel practice

TV One Calls for calf killing practice to be banned

ODT -  Fonterra says it wants calf inductions stopped

Scoop -  Threat to New Zealand's dairy reputation

TVNZ - SPCA says calf killing could harm reputation

TV One - Calls for controversial calf killing to be banned