Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry, since dairy cows must continually have calves to produce milk for human consumption and the male calves are of no use since they cannot produce milk. Males calves are taken from their mothers as young as a few hours old, to be fattened and slaughtered around 14 – 16 weeks for veal. Female calves replace their mothers in the dairy industry.
There are three types of veal: “bob” veal (slaughtered at one to three days old); grain-fed calves (who are fed milk and grain); and white veal (who are fed a milk replacement product to ensure the meat is white.)
Housing systems for veal calves include hutches, stalls and group pens. In group pens, calves live among other calves, often under artificial light. Bullying occurs in the crowded and stressful environment.
With proper management, bullying can be kept to a minimum. Group housing of veal calves is preferred and more humane than crate and hutch systems, provided that group pen facilities offer adequate bedding, such as straw, plus ventilation and separate resting and exercise areas. However, calves living in these facilities are still taken from their mothers too young in life, and are not given the opportunity to live into adulthood.
In stalls, calves are confined alone in small wooden crates where they can barely move, let alone turn round or stretch. As they grow, their space becomes even smaller. Crated calves are unable to interact with others.
Hutches, though not as restrictive as stalls, do not meet the needs of calves since they are alone and chained to an igloo-like structure. Calves can be inside or outside the hutch, but cannot socialize with other calves because the chain is too short. Lack of stimulation must cause extreme loneliness.
All housing systems frustrate the calves’ natural instincts to suckle, frolic in the fresh air and be close to their mothers.
Veal calves live unhealthy lives, especially those milk-fed, who can suffer anaemia due to lack of iron. Calves normally suckle their mothers many times a day, but most veal calves are “limit-fed”, receiving milk from buckets twice a day. The feeding regimen causes calves enduring indigestion and diarrhea, as well as distress due to hunger and being denied the opportunity to suckle. Veal calves are routinely given antibiotics to control diseases common in veal-rearing facilities.
For more information about veal production download our fact sheet.