Note: Updates are being made, and a second report with public comments is forthcoming.
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Veal producers in the Buckeye State will be allowed to continue raising their calves in stall confinement into 2017 and beyond, according to standards approved by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board during a March 1 special meeting.
After a couple hours of intense discussion and testimony from animal rights activists and a near-capacity crowd of farmers, the board voted 6-5 in favor of removing language that would have allowed calves of all ages to turn around. The amendment effectively allows calves to be kept in individual stall pens that restrict turning around, up to 10 weeks of age, after 2017.
Calves older than 10 weeks must be able to turn around and be moved to group housing, and tethering at any age is prohibited after 2017, unless medically necessary, or for transportation, or to prevent navel and cross sucking of other animals.
Voting in favor of removing the “turn-around” language was Jeff Wuebker, who made the motion, Jerry Lahmers, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Stacey Atherton, Dominic Marchese and Bobby Moser. Opposing the measure was Ohio Director of Agriculture Director James Zehringer, State Veterinarian Tony Forshey, Bill Moody, Leon Weaver and Harry Dates.
The veal subcommittee originally recommended tethering up to 10 weeks, and individual loose pens or group pens thereafter. Its members will be required to give up tethering, but retain the right to use non-turnaround loose pens up to 10 weeks.
The board’s vote completes the veal standards draft, which the board approved sending to the e-comment notification system, for the public to review and file comments, before the standard is advanced through the state’s rule-making process.
The board weighed hours of testimony from yesterday’s meeting, and the past several veal meetings, along with research and economic studies. The last major action came at the Nov. 2 meeting, when the board approved two production “concepts” for veal.
At the November meeting, the board voted 7-4 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.
At the Feb. 22 meeting, it was revealed more than 30 Ohio veal farmers had signed an affidavit saying they did not intend to continue their operations in the state, unless they could confine the calves individually for the first 10 weeks of age.
At the March 1 meeting, it appeared at least a dozen or more who signed the affidavit were present. They cited these reasons against allowing young calves to turn around: higher calf mortality, more issues with fecal contamination and medical expenses, competition for food, uncontrolled navel suckling instincts, the cost of converting to group housing and the decrease of efficiency in group housing.
Several producers and veterinarians spoke on the susceptibility of calves 10 weeks old and younger, which is why they advocate individual stalls at this age.
State Veterinarian Tony Forshey said from a health and disease standpoint, “I think we can pretty easily justify the not turning around in those first few weeks.”
Dave Glauer, former state veterinarian and the board’s technical writer, explained to other board members why the provision was being considered.
“This (young calf) is a fragile individual in their first part of their lives,” he said. “I think they could be maintained in an individually loose pen.”
Board member Jeff Wuebker, a swine farmer from Versailles, summarized the information he had been given, including statements by American Veal Association approving the recommendations of the veal subcommittee, including the individual stall confinement up to 10 weeks.
“There is lots of science out there that shows the individuality of the calf is extremely important to the health and well-being of that animal,” he said. “I would argue that the individuality is needed in those first 10 weeks.”
The board entertained testimony from Wayne County veterinarian and veal subcommittee member Todd Smith, who presented a veal cost comparison chart based on size of pen; and from Gaylord Barkman of Buckeye Veal, who uses and advocates for the group pen system.
Smith’s report, which was done in consultation with Ohio veal farmers, found significant decreases in the number of calves a producer could finish based on increases to pen size. With 100 24-inch stalls, a producer with the same size facility could produce 34 more calves than with stalls of 36 inches wide.
A producer using the same size facility with group housing would produce 20 fewer calves than with the 24-inch stalls, or about a 20 percent reduction.
Death loss increased at least 2 percent over stall confinement, and feed and medical costs both showed significant increases with group housing. Overall, group housing cost about 30 cents more per pound of calf, compared to other models used in the study.
Barkman, who is director of service and sales for Buckeye Veal, said he and his producers are doing well with the group model. Although it costs a lot initially to convert, his company has helped producers with conversion costs, he said.
“They’re (group housing producers) being profitable, they’re using it and there are a lot more (producers) transferring into it,” he said.
Some of Barkman’s meat processors demand group raised calves and some pay a premium for such calves.
However, veal farmers not associated with Buckeye Veal and its feed company, said they want to be able to maintain their independence, and use the proven practices that best suit their own farm and markets.
The veal standards are still considered a draft, and are likely to be filed for review with the Ohio Department of Agriculture in the coming days. Check back soon for more updates and a link.