Today we visited the Kempense export-centre at Merksplas in Belgium, where Irish calves were being held for export to Poland.
Eyes on Animals is very critical of the export route that Irish calves undergo to mainland Europe. When exporting/importing Irish calves, the legal feeding intervals during these long journeys are systematically violated. From Irish markets and assembly yards to the control posts near Cherbourg (France), calves are on board trucks over 27 hours, without any milk. This is detrimental to the welfare and health of the calves who are still dependent on milk. Even though we have documented these violations and alerted the authorities and media about them for years, the trade continues and even increases each year.
The housing conditions of the calves in this Belgian export centre was good (sufficient space and dry straw bedding). We did see some very exhausted calves (heads tucked in while sleeping). The owner let us know that the calves were given energy drink (upon arrival and again shortly before departure). This energy drink contains just 7% crude protein, while milk contains at least 20% crude protein. We informed the owner of the centre that Council Regulation 1/2005 requires calves, after 19 hours of travel, should be given proper nutritional food (such as milk or milk-replacer for unweaned calves) and not only energy drink. Sadly, the owner informed us that his centre will nevertheless continue with only providing energy drink, as they think this is best.
We are also concerned about the fact that more and more Irish calves are heading to Poland. The journey from dairy farm in Ireland to fattening farm in Poland is extremely long; It takes approximately 7 days, including the so called ‘rest’ times at control posts like at Merksplas, and the marts and assembly centers in Ireland. During this journey calves are fed very poorly and infrequently, and experience extreme levels of stress due to the repeated handling (loading, unloading and during feeding-procedures).
Even though we find it very disappointing that the owner is not open to reconsider the feeding practices for young calves, we do appreciate him allowing us access inside his export centre and for taking time out to talk to us.