Calf induction is the practice of forcing cows to abort their calves six to eight weeks prematurely. It has been a long tradition on New Zealand dairy farms; done to get all the cows to calve within a short window of time, so they all begin producing milk at around the same time.
Calves 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.
Health problems in induced cows are 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 the death of the mother.
SAFE campaigned for induction to be banned, unless there are pregnancy complications and it is in the interest of the pregnant cow. With the help of the Greens and a strong public outcry on the induction issue, the dairy industry and the NZ Veterinary Association were pushed to announce a voluntary ban on ‘routine’ inductions. This came into force on June 1 2015.
Prior to the voluntary ban, about 40 per cent of New Zealand dairy farmers were inducing healthy cows, with veterinarians contracted to induce abortions by injection.
Inductions are still not entirely ruled out, however. The Dairy NZ website states: "For circumstances outside a farmer’s control that have a direct impact on reproductive performance, (e.g. adverse climatic event, disease outbreak), farmers may apply to their respective dairy company, via their veterinarian, for approval of a short-term dispensation to carry out inductions under specific criteria."
This means the door is still open for inductions.