Animal Health

Considerations for bobby calf processing

By Dairy News

WITH MANY farms now busy calving, it is timely to revisit our management of all new arrivals, some of whom may only stay a short time on farm.

Under current Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines — land transport guidelines, the minimum age for a calf to leave the farm is five days.

Increased use of sexed semen and beef breed bulls helps reduce the number of bull calves entering the bobby calf chain but cannot eliminate this pathway.

Many farmers have identified the risk of losing social licence to farm as a significant threat to dairy production. Livestock management practices that uphold the guidelines provide assurance to customers and community about minimum welfare standards for cattle on dairy farms.

Calf care is a high priority for the future sustainability of the industry, regardless of the outcome for the individual animal.

In the last WestVic Dairy newsletter we discussed care and feeding of heifer replacements, here we will review requirements to ensure non-replacement calves are fit for transport.

Good management in the first five days for bobby calves includes

• Being fed 2–4 litres colostrum within first 24 hours of life

• Being fed daily with milk/milk replacer and have ad lib access to water.

• Being provided protection from excess heat, sun, wind and rain. They must be kept clean and dry with bedding.

• Always handled gently. Not thrown, hit, dropped or dragged at any time. Bobby calves must not be moved using dogs or electric prodders

Before leaving the farm gate bobby calves must fit for transport, which includes:

• Having received liquid feed within six hours of transport. The day, date and time a specific calf receives this feed must be recorded in a manner able to be presented for audit.

• Being able to stand on all four feet and be able to rise from a lying position. Hooves must be flat and worn.

• Having no signs of disease, deformity, disability, injury or blindness — no discharges from nose, mouth, navel or anus.

• Having a dry shrivelled navel.

• Being at least five days of age -this needs to be recorded in a way that can be audited.

• Being free from antibiotic residue.

• Being at least 23 kg.

There is a chain of people responsible for bobby calf welfare from farm via transporter to processor. Each point of the chain is an opportunity to demonstrate how management practices align with guidelines. In Victoria these guidelines are enforceable under the Livestock Management Act 2010. Dairy Australia has several bobby calf management resources available for download:

  • Field guide: Caring for bobby calves before and during transport can be downloaded here.
  • Information sheet: Handling Bobby Calves — Fit for transport at can be downloaded here.
  • Book: Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle -A guide for dairy farmers January 2017 can be accessed here.

We have some free Bobby Calves for Sale signs that are a useful communication tool between farm staff and transporters regarding suitability of calves for collection. The plastic signs have space to insert when calves last fed and provide contact number for any issues. Please phone WestVic Dairy on 5557 1000 if you would like a sign for your farm.

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards for Land Transport of Livestock can be accessed at the Animal Welfare Standards website.