Editor’s Note: Updates to this developing story are being made. Check back for more.
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — In an eventful meeting, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board approved two “concepts” related to veal production they plan to use in forming the standards for veal, and potentially the standards for other types of livestock.
The board voted 7-4 on Nov. 2 to require veal calves under 10 weeks of age to be able to turn around, and it voted unanimously to require veal calves 10 weeks and older to be housed in groups of at least two animals per pen, with enough space to turn themselves around.
The decisions are not the actual standards, but “concepts” the board says could be used to help form standards.
The issue of “turning around” received a divided vote because of concern by several members of the veal subcommittee that veal calves 10 weeks and younger benefit by being tethered and raised individually, because it prevents problems with calves sucking the navels of other calves (cross-sucking), eliminates manure contaminating feed and water, and lessens mortality and feed costs.
In an early morning meeting, the veal subcommittee revamped its recommendations to the full board. Previously, the subcommittee had voted to allow tethering of calves up to 10 weeks, and not thereafter, following 2020. Sometime after 8 a.m., the subcommittee changed its request to 2017, which is the date set by the American Veal Association for transitioning all veal calves to group housing.
The subcommittee’s recommendations were then presented to the board, during its 10 a.m. regular meeting, alongside a set of “alternate recommendations” which did not go through the subcommittee’s review. During a break in the meeting, Ohio Department of Agriculture officials said the “alternate recommendations” were formed from ODA staff, to model recommendations of the American Veal Association and American Veterinary Medical Association.
With two sets of recommendations on the floor, the board deliberated the differences and heard public comments on which was the best.
The “alternate” plan included several alternate housing mandates, including additional spacing requirements and allowing enough space for calves of all ages to turn around, after the close of 2017.
The full board did not vote on either of these recommendations, except for the two “concepts,” which appear in the alternate recommendation.
In public comments, Jack Advent of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association cast his approval for the “alternate” plan, as opposed to what the subcommittee proposed.
He said the alternate “appears to be to be more consistent with the AVMA’s position and policy on veal calf management.”
The alternate also is preferable to HSUS, said Karen Minton, The Humane Society of the United States’ director for Ohio. She said details of the alternate still need a closer look, but she would recommend it “in lieu of recommendations coming from veal subcommittee.”
Most of the veal subcommittee members stuck around for the board meeting, expressing a range of reactions to the alternate proposals, which they did not previously know about.
Producers like Gaylord Barkman, who was chairman of the subcommittee, said group housing actually is proving sustainable. He cited several unscientific figures to show his calf mortality has decreased and feed conversion has increased. Altogether, he figured he’s improved production efficiency by about $11-12 per calf, and recommended the board adopt the alternate standards.
But other producers, like Bob Cochrell of Ohio’s Wayne County, warned there could be serious consequences if producers are required to use group housing, particularly for all ages of calves.
He fears calves will defecate on each other, act on their instinct to suck navels of other animals and cause increased mortality and medical requirements.
“Ethically, I cannot go to the group system,” he said. “I ethically have a moral responsibility to take the best care of my calves that I know how, and this system is that.”
Cochrell agreed with Barkman that if group housing is mandated, the cost to transition will be high. And if it lands on producers, Cochrell said it could end operations like his own, which have been a family operation for generations.
”I think as an independent veal farmer in Ohio, that (independent operation) is in great jeopardy, if you take the alternative that has been suggested to you,” he said.
The board plans to continue its deliberations on veal standards while continuing the progress of other specie-specific subcommittees. The board’s official decision on veal standards could come at any meeting.