Veal industry switching to group housing; one-third already adopted

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MESHOPPEN, Pa. — Veal farmers are ahead of schedule as they work to meet the American Veal Association commitment to transition all veal farms to group housing by 2017.

“Veal farmers’ primary concerns are the well-being of the animals in their care and meeting their customers’ needs and concerns,” said Drew Vermeire, a calf nutritionist and chairman of the industry committee that oversees U.S. veal care and quality farming standards.

“Veal farmers are now embracing research proven, science-based animal husbandry guidelines on how to provide high quality individual care to calves raised in group pen facilities.”

Survey

A survey of the veal industry, conducted in April 2009, found that 34.8 percent of the veal calves currently going to market are raised in group housing.

“Veal farmers are much further ahead than we anticipated at this point,” said Vermeire.

“Initially, we expected to have 20 percent of all veal calves raised in group housing by mid-2009.”

Vermeire said that some farmers adopted group housing early, while others are phasing in and experiencing good results.

Deadline

In May 2007, the veal association’s board of directors voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling for all U.S. veal farms to transition to group housing systems by Dec. 31, 2017.

The board also encouraged more research to aid farmers in the transition.

“Veal farmers recognize there are some challenges that still need to be addressed within group housing,” Vermeire said. “Calves in groups exhibit ‘bully’ behaviors toward other calves, which we expect from young bulls.”

“In addition, there is generally less uniformity among calves raised in group housing. We know the foodservice market depends on consistency so we are still working out these issues.”

Research continues among industry scientists and at universities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe to help manage calf group behavior, nutritional needs, and to refine various group housing systems to improve calf well-being.

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