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The Big Picture
Preventing the slaughter of surplus male production animals


Georgina Mills discusses a new position statement on ways to reduce the number of unwanted males on farms

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Unwanted male production animals in the dairy and meat industries are an ethical challenge on a number of levels

UK veal and goat meat should be put back on the table to end the slaughter of unwanted male calves and goats on farms.

That is one of the recommendations in a new joint position statement from the BVA, the British Cattle Veterinary Association, the Goat Veterinary Society and the British Veterinary Poultry Association that looks at the issues associated with surplus male offspring of animals produced for dairy and eggs.

In the statement, the organisations explain that as breeds have been specialised for desirable food production traits – such as high-yield milk, meat and egg production – this has created a problem of unwanted male offspring.

This affects male dairy cows, which do not have the desired genetic traits for economic meat production, and a large number of male chicks of layer strains. It also affects a small number of other farmed species, such as goats bred for milk.

For male calves, the statement suggests that instead of being slaughtered shortly after birth, these animals could be raised for the production of veal or rosé veal. However, it does note that quality of life must take precedence over life span and the calves must be raised in a way which does not compromise their welfare – they suggest farmers sign up to high welfare veal schemes.

The same principle can apply to billy goat kids, the statement says. Although the market for goat meat in the UK is currently relatively small, demand seems to be on the rise.

Current estimates suggest that around 95,000 calves, 30 million chicks and 3000 billy goat kids are slaughtered every year because they are unwanted. The dairy and egg industries have been advised to adopt a ‘3Rs’ (reduce, replace, refine) approach to the rearing and slaughter of animals which are surplus to the requirements of the specific industries.

Reduction recommendations include using sexed semen (a technology used quite frequently within the dairy farming community) and increasing the length of time that an animal can produce milk through selective breeding (therefore reducing the amount of offspring). In addition to raising male offspring for meat in the UK, another recommendation for replacing is to export these animals to be raised for meat in countries outside of the UK. However, if this option is to be adopted, the journey times and welfare of the animals during transport should be considered.

To refine this approach, farmers and vets should take measures to prevent avoidable suffering. The position statement says that slaughter must be carried out humanely, and vets should ask their clients how they are killing surplus animals. It also calls for more research to be done into on-farm killing methods.

BVA junior vice president James Russell said: ‘Unwanted male production animals in the dairy and meat industries are an ethical challenge on a number of levels. Firstly, for the producer who may have animals with little or no commercial value. Secondly, for the consumer who may find the notion of these unused animals a difficulty.

‘Our new joint position is based around the principle of “a life worth living” and looks at ways that the veterinary profession can work with the farming community to reduce the numbers of animals that this affects and ensure that high welfare is always front and centre.’

The full position statement can be found at

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