OLCSB subcommittee, animal rights activists at odds over veal housing

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REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — “Recommendations” will be bountiful when the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board considers its actions on veal standards Nov. 2, and debate could potentially carry into the next several meetings.

On Oct. 25, members of the veal subcommittee held their eighth meeting to discuss acceptable veal raising practices, ultimately deciding on a draft of amended policies to be recommended for the board’s adoption.

The draft defines basic terms, including veal: “A young bovine animal sold for slaughter at or under 750 pounds, and raised for the purpose of veal meat production.”

Acceptable confinement

The recommendation includes three acceptable practices of confinement: Individual tether pens, in which the calf is tethered in its own pen; individual loose pens, in which the calf is enclosed on both sides the full length of the pen; and group pens, in which the calf may be started in an individual tethered pen or an individual loose pen, and after 10 weeks of age placed in groups of two or more.

The subcommittee, which advises the board on its findings related to veal, voted 5-2 in favor of ending tethering in 10 years, for calves beyond 10 weeks old.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, addressed progress on the agreement between his organization and Ohio’s commodity groups during a press conference Oct. 26 at the Statehouse.

Pacelle said group housing should still be the mandate by 2017, according to the recommendations his organization agreed upon in June, which came from the same decision by the American Veal Association. He would not accept 2020 as the date, or allowing calves to be tethered to 10 weeks.

“That is a deal breaker for us,” he said.

Tethering has been a central issue facing the subcommittee since its first meeting. Several of its members argue it is a necessary way to keep calves from harmfully sucking the navels of other animals, which could occur if penned as a group.

Members also expressed concern calves raised in a group are more likely to be exposed to other animals’ feces and bacteria, and require more feed and medical care — factors that increase cost and, in some cases, could jeopardize the animals’ well-being.

Perception vs. fact

Veal farmer Bob Cochrell, of Ohio’s Wayne County, urged the full board at its last meeting to be wary of letting perception drive the issue. Cochrell, who has emerged as one of the more outspoken subcommittee members, said veal producers on the committee have determined 80 percent of veal in Ohio comes from individual tether systems, for the purpose of production, as well as calf care.

“No farmer is ‘converting’ to the group pen system because they believe it is ‘better’ overall for their calves,” he said. “Anyone who proposes that the level of care is the same for a group as an individual is deceiving themselves.”

Among those to vote against the 10-year phase-out was Tim Amlaw, vice president of American Humane. In a separate motion, he voted to approve a seven-year phase-out (2017), which is the same timeframe recommended by the American Veal Association, and the agreement of recommendations written by the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio’s major farm groups.

Amlaw said he would be fine with individual loose pens, or group pens in which the animals are started on tethers for the first 10 weeks, then untethered. But he would not support tethering without an age limit.

“Calves pretty much have to turn around,” he said, to comply with American Humane Association standards.

“There are behaviors that we feel are conducive to good animal well-being,” he continued, including the animal’s ability to turn itself around.

Conflicting recommendations

But even if tethering is allowed for a period of time, it still will not satisfy the HSUS and Ohio agreement, said HSUS’ Ohio Spokeswoman Karen Minton.

“There is an inherent conflict in the recommendations that are coming from the subcommittee,” Minton said.

Although multiple subcommittee members maintain that tethering up to the 10th week is in the best interest of the animal — to prevent damaging sucking on other animals and fecal-to-face contact, Pacelle said the calves’ lives already are too short to be restrained for so long.

“The animals don’t need to be tethererd,” he said. “They should be able to move and exhibit normal behaviors.”

It’s questionable, though, what “normal” behavior is and how much is really a good thing.

A veterinarian on the subcommittee said normal behavior for some animals could include fighting to the death. Others, like Cochrell, are concerned “normal” could lead to animals defecating on each other and in places where water and feed is kept.

Board’s decision

Committee members who voted in favor of the 10-year phase-out said it gives producers more time to adjust, and that their document as a whole allows producers to choose which acceptable practices of production they want to follow.

All of the recommendations will be considered by the 13-member board, which will make the final decision.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

13 Comments

  1. Sookie says:

    This article says: “”"It’s questionable, though, what “normal” behavior is and how much is really a good thing.”"”
    I cannot believe that “knowledgable” farmers and “schooled” veterinarians are discussing whether it is normal to rope a baby calf by the neck, just inches from the wall, from birth to slaughter. What century are we living in?! This is progress in the agri- business? I don’t think it takes a farmer or a vet to tell an average person what is normal. Anyone with ethics or any level of compassion knows that “normal” means grass, and free range. Not concrete, wood slat floors and neck tied within inches.
    I think the people trying to figure out “how much is really a good thing” need to tether themselves for a day to see what it might be like, and what a good thing is.
    I can’t wait to take this information to friends and family and neighbors. I think there will be alot of veggie meals in the future …….

  2. Smartysmom says:

    Ahhh, there’s Sookie again applying human standards to animals. Clearly Sookie hasn’t been around animals enough to know there are differences, which is pretty typical of our “humane” friends. They really don’t much like animals, at least not enough to be responsible for actually maintaining one.

    On the other hand speaking of normal, if we had human babies in litters, and they were all kept together in a group with nothing to control their behavior, they’d poop on each other, suck each other raw, including on the belly button before it healed, and in general be more prone to disease than if each were kept in it’s own crib which they are. And before you tell me we don’t tether them, yes we do. When they can walk, I’ve seen lots of toddlers on a leash. It sure beats having them get away and into harms way.

    Now, Sookie isn’t really concerned about the animals tho, is she. She is after the principle that she and her animal rights buddies get to make the rules. And we all know where those go – a petless, meatless society of herbivores (prey animals) who are ripe for the picking of the rest of the human race (China?) who certainly don’t intend to go there.

    Now, I wonder who is really behind the so-called humane movement?????

  3. Kathy says:

    Instead of the animal activist coming to the meetings saying they want this changed and that changed in the name of humane treatment, wouldn’t it be more productive for them to actually have several large scale farms up and running with models of their ideals already being used? Not just one or two small family farms, but how about 100 or so large scale farms. Wouldn’t it be easier for them to give tours and show US, the real farmers how we can still be productive and profitable yet still be within your tolerances of humane? Who wants to listen to someone at a table expounding upon the virtues of humane farming when they do not have any large scale models to show. Indeed the animal activists are of the opinion that everyone should be a vegan, but be realistic animal activists – it’s just not going to happen. So it is the opinion of this one poor old farmer person that you, the animal activists should have several fully functional and productive models of your ideal large farms and know what it is to care for livestock full time before you start pushing people around with your Utopian ideals of what you THINK is best for everyone else.

  4. Mary says:

    Good points SmartypantsMom and Kathy. I have spent my life caring for cattle, both beef and dairy. Animals are housed in individual pens in their early weeks to protect them from each other and from disease. As a nurse, its the same thing we do with human babies for the same reasons. We do not put newborns in one big playpen, but individual isolettes.
    Obviously, there are people who think we should not eat animals. Again as a nurse, there are many reasons to balance your diet with animal proteins as a part of that diet. First for adequate B12 which is essential for clear thinking and reduced risks of dementia.
    HSUS should let those with expertise and training to make the best decisions possible.
    The most recent studies I have seen shows twice the mortality rate if the veal calves are in group pens. Just saying that maybe we should consider this.

  5. LCampbell says:

    HSUS continually claims that they want “meaningful dialogue” with agriculture. I didn’t know that “meaningful dialogue” meant ultimatums and threats. In the Dispatch yesterday, Mr. Pacelle was quoted as saying that if any stipulation of the “agreement”, which by the way, according to all 3 sides, Strickland, Pacelle, Farm Bureau is only a “gentlemen’s agreement”, they are going for the ballot but that is not a threat. If HSUS is not threatening the Board then why are they continually bringing it up.

    I would also remind the readers that at the Ag Days in early part of the year, Gov. Strickland stated he would fight HSUS, so much for the Minister/Governor keeping his word on that.

  6. AmyK says:

    What I don’t understand is why the veal subcommittee in Ohio would push for something different than what was agreed upon by all the agriculture commodity groups and the Farm Bureau in June, AND what is recommended by the American Veal Association. That makes no sense. The agreement and the AVA recommendation is to phase out veal crates by 2017, not 2020. And it’s not just the HSUS but also American Humane that is against tethering. As Tim Amlaw said, an animal needs to be able to turn around.

  7. Sookie says:

    smartmom, I’m sure there are moms that leash their children and according to the evening news, some have taken it a step further and tied their children down in their homes and were arrested. Leashing the child solved the problem, but is it the right thing to do?!
    I certainly do not put animals on the same level as humans, but I do know that my dogs feel fear and pain. I know that scratching behind the ears of my dog makes him feel good and he reacts as if he enjoys gentle behavior, as does a baby calf, adult cow, or other farm animals. They are raised for food, but they are made of flesh and blood and feel pain, fear, boredom, anxiety. If this is not recongnized, then one should not be farming! The animals are not rows of pumpkins or watermelons. They need to move around in a normal way. There is no justifying what happens to animals on factory farms, transport or slaughter houses.
    If the farming industry doesn’t change, it will eventually put itself out of business, not the humane groups.

  8. Mary says:

    Sookie,
    Animals do have feelings and we do take care of them with an understanding of their behavior and characteristics. However, what you call “normal” is not always in the best interests of the animal. If domesticated animals were released to act “normal”, the cows would normal just roam and they end up on roads where they get killed just like the deer that try to cross roads. There is twice the fatalilty rate when veal animals are housed in group pens! We do not put babies in one big crib and we should not put all the baby calves in one big pen. Individual housing prevents them from getting deadly infections. We may be able to use pens without tethering the calves and allow more movement, but group pens just don’t make sense for newborns if you actually care about the animal’s health.

  9. LCampbell says:

    I am glad to see that the Livestock Care Standards Board and the subcommittee is standing up for what they were voted in to do, regulate based on what is best for farmers and animals, not giving in to the Animal Rights demands.

  10. Rosemary Marshall says:

    How is it that British farmers manage to raise calves in groups without ‘abnormal’ behaviour – the sucking reflex is completely normal – with plenty of room to move, and play and with an adequate diet which facilitates development of the rumen. It mystifies me that apparently Americans cannot do this?

  11. Mary says:

    Yes Rosemary the sucking reflex is normal. I do not know how the British farmers can keep an animal from sucking without some interventions. I have lived my entire life on dairy farms. I have seen first hand what happens when animals are in group pens as newborns and suck on each other. It is not a good thing for the animals. They can’t tell that they should not use their sucking reflex on just their mother. I have seen other mothers kick babies who try to suck on the wrong mother. I have seen bulls develop infections of the umbilical area. I have seen heifers develop udder infecitons and calve with sections of the udder non producing due to early sucking. I have seen different strategies used in older group pens when animals may continue to suckle past the age of needing the milk.

    Please consider that those who are legally charged with making the decisions are doing so with all of the best research from hundreds of years and the experience of thousands of farmers who are in the field doing the work.

    I would not dream of coming to your workplace to tell you how to do your job unless I had the knowledge, experience and credentials to do the work. Please do not be mislead by what a radical animal rights person “thinks” is right. There are way too many ways that we all depend on animals to use junk science to make the decisions.

  12. Joyce Smith says:

    I was offended by Mary’s comments on Rosemary’s contribution to the debate on calf rearing, which was neither “radical animal rights” nor “junk”. 60 years ago I spent 10 years calf rearing on a high welfare dairy farm in the UK, where there was a good level of stockmanship. New calves could be kept separate until the navel had healed; the individual pens were strawed down and the calf had room to move around. As soon as the navel had healed the calf would be put in a strawed pen with a group of similar age and bucket fed warm milk, calf nuts and meadow hay as soon as its digestion was sufficiently developed Even with bucket feeding, I did not have trouble with misplaced suckling.

    Calf rearing now has the benefit of modern technology: machines with artificial teats, allowing the calf to get the correct ration of warm milk, so it is even easier now than it was in my youth to rear happy, healthy calves, able to race around on nice straw bedding whenever they feel the urge. I cannot believe this technology is not available in the USA!!

    If I had tried to rear the calves as Mary thinks they should be reared, my boss would have sacked me. But of course he was only a farmer descended from generations of farmers, and well-respected for the excellence of his farming. And as it happens, his son and grandsons now manage the farm to organic (UK Soil Association)standards.

  13. Mary says:

    I am sorry you were offended though it appears you are also confused about what I said. I have said nothing about the animals being tethered or not on straw. We use a deep bedding of straw and the animals are in hutches with wire fences around them so the animals have every opportunity to run around in their straw or nestle in it to sleep. And yes, I monitor the navel for when it is dry, I feed them plenty of warm milk with a nipple. When they are just a little older they are put in group pens.
    The only difference of opinion here seems to be at what age they are put in groups. I do not understand why there is so much push toward being in group pens from the very beginning of life when we know the problems that can occur are real.

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