Improving the welfare of bobby calves
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and industry groups have been working to improve the welfare of bobby calves that are being transported for processing. We’ve been working with suppliers, farmers, transporters, and processors.
Most people are meeting the welfare requirements. But some workers still aren’t doing what they need to, and everyone across the supply chain needs to play their part. Our work has a big focus on targeting people who aren't meeting the minimum standards.
In 2016, we ran a public consultation on proposed animal welfare regulations. The first regulations for young calves came into force on 1 August 2016, with more in February and August 2017. We also did research to better understand the bobby calf welfare situation in New Zealand.
2016 consultation on proposed animal welfare regulations
Summaries of animal welfare regulations
Checklist for transporting calves
Suppliers must ensure calves being transported:
- are strong enough to withstand the stress of travel
- are healthy and free of disease, deformity, blindness, or any disability
- have been adequately fed on milk or colostrum
- are alert and able to rise from a lying position and, once up, can move freely. They must not be listless and unable to protect themselves from trampling and being injured by other calves
- have hooves that are firm and worn flat – not bulbous with soft unworn tissue
- have a navel cord that is wrinkled, withered, and shrivelled – not pink or red coloured, raw or fleshy
- are at least 4 days old.
This checklist is based on the minimum welfare standards.
Know the codes of welfare
Suppliers, farmers, transporters, and processors should be familiar with the codes of welfare for:
- dairy cattle
- transport within New Zealand [PDF, 585 KB]
Research to develop calf welfare indicators
Results from the first study
In 2016, we looked at reasons for mortality and morbidity in dairy calves (bobby calves) for slaughter, and potential new welfare indicators. Results were based on observations of calves and information from questionnaires given to farmers, transport operators, and slaughter plant personnel. The research links calf mortality to on-farm management practices, transport, time in calving season, and slaughter schedules. This first study showed dehydration and diarrhoea to be common in bobby calves in lairage. The report includes a literature review as well as the study results.
Bobby calf welfare across the supply chain – first study [PDF, 2.1 MB]
Results from the second study
This final report describes research to validate practical measures to assess dehydration in bobby calves. Results from data collected in 2018 are based on a study with healthy calves over a 24-hour period of food and water deprivation. The research showed that the tested measures (including a skin-pinch test, capillary refill, and core body temperature) can easily be performed by a single operator and may be of practical use in the industry to identify calves with mild-to-moderate dehydration. Food and water deprivation for up to 24 hours induced mild-to-moderate dehydration, but calves remained bright and alert with good sucking reflexes. Diarrhoea may have contributed significantly to the dehydration observed in the Year 1 study.
Bobby calf welfare across the supply chain – final report [PDF, 1 MB]
Find out more
Animal Welfare (Calves) Regulations 2016 – NZ Legislation
Mortality rates in young calves in the 2020 and 2021 spring calving seasons [PDF, 775 KB]
Mortality rates in young calves in the 2018 and 2019 spring calving seasons [PDF, 1.2 MB]
Mortality rates in young calves in the 2017 spring calving season [PDF, 742 KB]
Mortality rates in bobby calves 2008 to 2016 [PDF, 513 KB]
Who to contact
If you have questions about the welfare of bobby calves, email firstname.lastname@example.org