Eyes on Animals made an unannounced visit to the calf market in Leeuwarden. Here, calves of 2-3 weeks old are collected for onward travel to fattening farms.
The accommodation was sufficient – the calves had a thick bed of straw and enough space. Many calves skipped with joy because they are not used to that much space (they come from individual boxes). The condition of the calves was a little better than during our last visit in June 2017. This is because the sector has implemented two important measures: calves less than 36 kg can no longer be transported (to the market). If this does happen, the dairy farmer and trader will be fined. In addition, the Identification and Registration system (I&R system) has been adjusted in such a way that dairy farmers can no longer cheat with the birth dates of calves. In the past, calves were often younger than registered in the I & R system. Eyes on Animals inspections probably contributed to these improved changes.
Nevertheless, today we found 10 calves, whose condition was poor; calves that are very lean, have diarrhea and / or are weakened. During our previous visit in 2017, there were higher numbers of calves in poor condition. The measures taken by the sector have thus led to a decrease in the number of weak calves on the market, but there is still room and need for improvement.
The general opinion of Eyes on Animals is that trade in calves of 2-3 weeks old is unacceptable. A huge concern is the amount of time calves do not receive milk (food). On the morning of transport, whilst at the market and in the evening after transport, calves often only get water with electrolytes, no milk. Veal farmers and handlers prefer receiving calves with empty stomachs, claiming this reduces the risks of diarrhea. To date, this assumption has not been scientifically proven, nor endorsed by experts, it therefore means the calves aren’t receiving any milk (nutrition) for up to 1-2 days (!) which is totally unacceptable for calves this age. If calves are given no milk – they will be more susceptible to disease and hypothermia.
Eyes on Animals would like to see the calves minimum age for transport, currently 14 days, to increase so the calves are stronger at the time of trading and are given milk whilst at the market. Furthermore, we have given recommendations on reducing stress when the calves are being loaded onto the trucks. The cattle market will move to a new location in Leeuwarden later this year. The board has asked Eyes on Animals to give animal welfare advice when setting up this new location. We are e are more than happy to offer our advice!
We want to thank the market board for allowing us to visit their market and for the improvements they have made since our last visit.