Morrisons is guaranteeing a market for all male calves born on its dairy suppliers’ farms in a bid to stop them being killed at birth.
A Guardian investigation last year revealed an estimated 95,000 male dairy calves were being slaughtered on-farm as farmers couldn’t afford to keep them, in a practice known as the dairy industry’s “dirty secret”.
The retailer’s new policy – coming into force in October – ensures they are neither shot or exported. Instead farmers will be required to rear the calves to a certain weight until 15–40 days of age, at which point they will be bought by the beef-rearing company Buitelaar.
It can cost a farmer £2 a day to rear a calf, with selling prices as low as £25–40. In contrast, shooting the calf costs as little as £9, including the bill for disposing of the animal.
Morrisons says farmers will only be paid a market price for the calves, but farms meeting health markers will be given premiums, as well as up to £40 extra for certain breeds of calves. It has committed to buying calves born on farms under bovine tuberculosis restrictions, which leaves farmers with few markets to sell to. It will also run a trial to rear the offspring of Jersey and Channel Island breed cows, whose male calves are small and fragile, with little market value.
Following the Guardian’s investigation last year, industry bodies vowed to come together to generate profitable markets for the beef from male dairy calves, despite continued public apathy towards consuming British rosé veal, championed by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty.
The UK’s biggest dairy company, Arla, whose customers include Morrisons, has since committed to banning its 2,500 farmers in the UK from killing calves by the end of 2020. Other retailers, including the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, run schemes to collect calves from their dairy suppliers and ensure they are reared rather than destroyed.
Morrisons said it hoped that it would be able to encourage dairy farmers to use breeds where the male offspring were more suited to beef production.
“We want to help farmers rethink the dairy bull calves market,” said Morrisons’ agricultural manager, Sophie Throup. “In the past dairy farmers have been worried about producing beef calves because of the effect a big beef animal can have on pregnancy, ease of calving and milk yield after birth.
“By working together and bring[ing] dairy and beef farmers together, we can help suggest breeds which benefit the beef market and are good for dairy farming systems. We also want to show that dairy beef is not a waste product. It has a real market value as it’s lean, consistent and produces a product we know customers want to buy.”
Some have now speculated that this could be a forerunner to a retailer running a cow-calf scheme to end the practice of calves being separated from their mothers soon after birth.