26 Oct 2016

Dairy farmers 'treat those calves like their babies'

6:50 pm on 26 October 2016

Farmers have hit back at claims of widespread mistreatment of bobby calves, after a video emerged of calves being thrown onto the back of trucks.

The hidden-camera footage, obtained by activist group Farmwatch, also showed calves being dragged along the ground.

Warning: Some people might find the video in this story disturbing.

Bobby calf

A bobby calf in Canterbury: The latest footage from Farmwatch featured farms in Waikato and Taranaki, from August 2016. Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has condemned the treatment, and started a full investigation.

But many farmers and farm workers say what was shown on the video did not reflect the reality of the industry.

Ivan Wildbore lives in Feilding and has worked with bobby calves his entire life.

This year, he was asked by a local transport company to help load the animals onto trucks. It was his first time doing that specific job - but he told Checkpoint with John Campbell that he was no stranger to how the process worked.

"I myself have never seen any misuse - and treating calves the way you see on TV, I just don't know where those stories are coming from," he said.

"I know farmers and they treat those calves like their babies."

Farmers and farm workers were actively trying to improve the treatment of bobby calves, Mr Wildbore said.

From next August, new regulations would come into force, which would include a new requirement to use ramps or raised platforms to load the animals.

He had been working on his own design for this process, he said.

"I've been sort of working on it for a while with DairyNZ, MPI and Federated Farmers.

"We've come up with a raised platform, that's above the ground, where the calves can actually get put into it and then the truck can back into it. So they're physically walking straight onto the truck."

Farmwatch's latest footage came from Taranaki and Waikato - the latter being the stomping ground of Aaron Robertson, who farms 200 cows near Morrinsville.

He said he was deeply worried by what he saw in Farmwatch's first exposé a year ago, as well as the latest footage.

Mr Robertson had already spent $2000 installing a raised platform. He was also selling more bobby calves to lifestyle block owners and said, this year, they had halved the number sent to slaughter from 80 to 40.

The dairy industry was making an effort, he said.

"We do care about our stock. Like they're our babies, our livelihood, our income. It sounds weird, but they're part of the family.

"If we can show that we're caring for them as much as we can, then hopefully the truck drivers will take that little bit of extra care as well."

Jen Hannigan farms 400 cows in the Hauraki District.

"Excuse the language, but it's bulls**t," she said, referring to Farmwatch's latest video. "I personally have never seen a bobby calf mistreated, other than in that footage."

Ms Hannigan said farmers were on-board with the new regulations. She was also about to refurbish an old ramp to bring the business in line with the new regulations.

"As for bobby calves, well, I personally don't know a single person who actually enjoys having bobby calves because of what happens to them," she said.

"By-product is what they get called, but they're more than a by-product."

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said the footage did not represent the whole sector, and pinned the abuse on a few "laggards".

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