On the 13th of October we visited Vitelco Calf slaughterhouse in Den Bosch. Vitelco slaughters 350,000 rosé and white meat calves each year. The unloading went smoothly because, from the truck, the calves could immediately walk into the lairage. There were no sharp turns or dead corners that could cause confusion. To move the calves to the stunner, use was made of the budbox principle. In this way, use is made of the natural behavior of the calf (the flight zone): on its own the calf walks in the right direction and doesn’t need to be pushed or chased. This principle is ideal for minimizing stress when herding cattle.
However, it is important that the lairage pens not be crowded, so that the calves can keep sufficient distance from the slaughterhouse worker. This was not always the case and as a result caused many calves to become nervous. We also saw that calves were stressed by the very loud hissing sounds of the pneumatic restraint box.
We made several recommendations for what could be done to improve the conditions for the animals here. One recommendation was to place rubber mats on the bare concrete floor of the isolation pens used for lairaging fragile animals that arrive in poorer condition than the others. Rubber mats would provide more comfort and warmth than cold and hard concrete.
We also recommended improving the floor just before the entrance into the restraint box because we saw calves tripping on their front legs at this point, reducing the volume of the noise in the plant (replacing the pneumatic (air) system with a hydraulic (oil) one for the restraint box mechanics) and reducing loading density in the lairage pens. We were not able to take a closer look at the stunning and de-bleeding because there was insufficient space to stand in this area, so we couldn’t give recommendations on that matter.
Just a few days after our visit, Vitelco ordered rubber mats. On October 26th they were placed in the isolation pens so that the weaker calves (that have to wait for quite a long time) have some comfort. Vitelco also informed us that they will reduce the noise in their plant by replacing the pneumatic system with hydraulics. The floor will also be redone in early 2018.
We find it positive that Vitelco started working on a number of specific animal welfare improvements so quickly and without hesitation. We would like to thank them for the transparent and open attitude during the visit and allowing us to take photos.