July 8, 2014

The horrific life of nz bobby calves

Most people believe that the way a cow produces milk for humans is as natural as a bee pollinating a flower. The majority of dairy food consumers don’t realise that these cows are typically artificially impregnated each year and that over one million young babies (called “bobby calves” by the farming industry), are considered to be an annoying waste product. The fact is, that while cows naturally produce milk, it’s only as much as is needed to feed their offspring when they have them. In order to produce it in the vast quantities demanded for mass human sale and consumption, artificial methods are required that are traumatising to both the mother and baby.

The primary concern for dairy farmers is that cows will only produce milk when they have a calf to feed. However, if the calf is drinking this milk and growing into a full grown animal, they won’t be able to collect it for sale and production. Therefore “the solution” is to repeatedly artificially inseminate dairy cows to ensure they’re constantly in a state for milk production (commonly referred to as AI). Not only is this stressful for the body of the cows, it creates another issue for dairy farmers – a large number of unwanted and unneeded bobby calves.

Every year in Australia approximately 700,000 bobby calves are slaughtered1. In New Zealand it is around 1.5 million each year2. The bobby calves are typically taken from their mother soon after birth, an event that is traumatic to both of the animals, as the maternal bond is extremely strong even before the baby is born. Once bobby calves are separated from their mother in holding pens, there are very few rights to protect the animals at this stage. Crowded and highly neglected, dairy farmers are only legally required to give them one meal per day2.

In New Zealand farmers are legally not required to feed them 30 hours before slaughter. The actual killing is usually not done on the farm – the bobby calves are loaded on to trucks and transported to abattoirs. Although New Zealand law states the calves must be at least four days old before they can be killed off, they are often in a weak and malnourished state.

The entirety of their extremely short lives is spent in varying stages of suffering and trauma, and all of this is completely legal under present dairy farming guidelines. While the very concept of bobby calves is repugnant enough, the manner in which calves are killed has also been called into attention in recent years. In February 2014, a man was recorded literally clubbing bobby calves to death on a New Zealand owned farm in Chile3. Although local industry authorities deny strongly that the same thing happens here, it’s a difficult thing to enforce and regulate.

Some ‘lucky’ bobby calves that live longer are raised for veal production. Veal has an international reputation as being one of the cruelest meats because of the extreme confinement and strict diet required to produce it. The calf is fed a synthetic formula that is intentionally low in iron to keep the animal anemic and keep the flesh pale and tender. After a few months of pain and suffering, they are slaughtered for meat.

Even without physical acts of violence, it’s definitely true that acts of emotional and mental torture are perpetrated against young animals on a daily basis. Since this is so deeply rooted in the success of the industry, it’s a difficult thing to stop, especially when the same government agency (the Ministry of Primary Industries) that is in charge of animal welfare is also responsible for promoting the dairy industry in general. This is a clear cut conflict.

It’s crucial for the general public to take a stand against the suffering of bobby calves and make it clear that this cruelty is not acceptable. The best step is to avoid consuming dairy and veal products, since they cause immense suffering to cows, are harmful to the environment4 and cause health issues for humans5.



1. Peta.org.au: Bobby Calves – a ‘Waste Product’ of the Dairy Industry

2. SAFE: Bobby Calves

3. NZFarmer.co.nz: Animal abuse claim sparks law reform change call

4. Vegans.co.nz: 1,000 Litres Of Water To Make 1 Litre Of Milk

5. Vegans.co.nz: The Great Milk Myth


November 30, 2015 Update:

NZ Diary Industry Exposed by SAFE and Farmwatch.

10 Responses to “The Horrific Life Of New Zealand Bobby Calves”

  1. Celeste:
    July 10, 2014

    Agree completely- I’m sickened and saddened by the laws of NZ that so readily allow cruelty to animals

  2. Janine:
    July 18, 2014

    This is awful and I just don’t understand why we can’t legislate to make things better, pay 20 cents more for milk (if you have to drink it).

  3. Lenna:
    September 3, 2014

    I found this article extremely sad – I raise my dairy calves and My bobby calves are given the same excellent treatment that my replacement heifers are given. Yes, they head off on the truck at four days old but they are strong & healthy. We would not be allowed to supply unwell or under nourished calves. We are surrounded by dairy farms that all show the same respect to all their stock. Our calves are kept in well ventilated sheds with hygienic dry bedding. Yes our bobby calves are sent to the works but every single bit of the calf is used in some way nothing goes to waste. The person who wrote this article is welcome to come and see just how well my animals are cared for. YOU have written a very untrue article of the greater dairy industry.

  4. Lynley Tulloch:
    October 22, 2014

    This is a well written article thanks.
    I have set up the Starfish Bobby Calf rescue project in an attempt to raise awareness of what these little guys are going through. It is really a tragic set up, both for the calves that live as replacement and those that are sent to the bobby truck. Bottom line is that dairy farmers are routinely removing newborn baby calves from their mothers in order to obtain the mothers milk. This is harrowing for the mother who calls endlessly for the baby and repeatedly goes back to the same spot she last saw him/her. The baby calf is likewise traumatized and left without his/her mothers reassuring presence and the supply of milk meant for him. He is artificially fed and either sent to the works at four days of age or kept and raised with paddocks of calves the same age. Grouped in barren paddocks without mothers, this situation is not natural. IT is cruel.

  5. Sue Beardslee:
    December 5, 2014

    I have been to dairy farms and seen the conditions these baby animals live in. Mostly in over-crowded, dirty conditions, among very ill and dead calves.
    If people could see these conditions, I think less would use cow milk as an every day food item – they need to remember that for every 3 months or so of milk indulgence, a baby animal suffers and dies.

  6. Shani:
    April 29, 2015

    I am a university student from Auckland. This semester I am doing a research paper and I have decided to focus on perceptions of veganism and where people get their information about veganism.
    You do not have to be vegan to answer the survey, this is just to get information on how people view veganism.
    Please if you could spare 5 minutes to answer a quick 10 question survey I would very much appreciate it!
    Thank you!

  7. Honour Smith:
    November 29, 2015

    This article is really good, but its even worse as well, I hate it so much

  8. sasha:
    February 9, 2016

    Sue, I’m sorry you saw that on some farms. That’s awful. Please believe me not every farm is the same.

    One thing I’ve often read circulating in articles like this is that the calves are denied milk.
    We give the calves fresh milk every day. Not formula..We just give it by bottle or milk feeder so the cow can be milked completely and doesn’t get mastitis. When a new calf is born it gets colostrum by stomach tube ensuring it gets antibodies and a big hit of fat and protein to catapult it into growth. Bobby’s get colostrum too so they don’t get sick. No farmer wants sick calves spreading their germs.
    I just had to comment on this. I hate the term we steal the calves milk. Yes we sell milk. Some cows produce 40- 60 litres of milk a day. The calf couldn’t possibly drink that amount.

  9. R.H.:
    March 24, 2017

    The article is incorrect about the 30 hours, it isn’t that farmers are not required to feed the calves for 30 hours, it means that if the slaughterhouse has not killed the calves within that amount of time after they are collected from the farms, THEY have to feed them, calves have to be fed within two hours before collection from the farms.

  10. MEARA:
    July 26, 2017

    Although it may be cruel, we need to consider factors outside of this current one. Milk is very important to us as a food. Of course cows will have to keep giving birth to keep making milk. Are we, as in the world asking for more milk or better animal care? If we wish for better care of the bobby calves, it will increase the price of milk and other dairy products. How will farmers be able to keep up the expenses and how will we, the world, accept a high increase in cost of something we used to have in plenty. Overall it won’t work. We cannot just look at one side and feel disgusted. We need to look at both sides and find a compromise.

Agree or disagree with this post? Leave a comment below.

Your email address will not be published.

Enter Code: *

Do not include website links or HTML in the reviews, they will be removed.