Today we met with the managers of Denkavit’s headquarters in the Netherlands. Denkavit is a large Dutch company working internationally and producing white veal and feed for veal calves. The reason we asked for a meeting is that we had seen footage taken by the French NGO L214 showing very rough and disrespectful treatment of young calves at one of their feed-testing stations in France. On top of the fear and pain of rough handling, the calves were kept on slatted floors with little space and no environmental enrichment, giving them a life lacking pleasure. This is something that EonA does not think is appropriate in the year 2022 when there is so much knowledge about animal-behaviour needs and also the ability for animals to suffer but to also experience joy. We invited Dr. Ronald Rongen to join our EonA team today. He is an expert in low-stress stockmanship of cattle of all ages and is an animal-welfare educator.
We were relieved to hear from Denkavit that the feed station in France is temporarily closed as they too were of the opinion that serious improvements were needed. The animals and the employees are no longer present in the building. Time is needed for Denkavit France to reflect on how to go further, and how to learn from these grave errors. The managers of Denkavit as a whole are reflecting how to improve the culture in regards to animal-welfare in their company in a harmonized way, so that everyone is on the same page regardless of geographical location.
We discussed short-term steps to make handling the young animals easier and calmer so that there was less risk for employees becoming frustrated and lashing out. Examples were to modify the scale, have animals no longer need to walk backwards out of the scale plus give them brushes to scratch on and teats to drink from, as animals at this age really should have the opportunity to suckle. Not only is sickling one of the most important behavioral needs of young calves but it also reduces stress and helps with digestion (reduces diarrhea). Additionally we discussed the need for excellent training of current and new employees, to make sure only people with knowledge and sensitivity to calves would be allowed to work at Denkavit and to make sure the handling of calves is being supervised at all times, possibly with intelligent surveillance cameras. Finally we discussed long term steps we would like to see Denkavit take, such as increasing the age calves arrive and changing the veal housing design so that calves have much more environmental stimulation and opportunity to move and socialize and explore.
The discussion was very open and creative. We will remain in touch with Denkavit and assist them with steps forward that they are willing to take, by either coordinating good trainers for them or helping brainstorm with them feasible but effective improvements that make a difference to the quality of life for the animals.