Five years after the board of directors of the American Veal Association (AVA) voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling for all U.S. veal farms to transition to group pens, a recent survey reveals that 70% of veal calves raised by AVA members will be housed in group pens by the end of 2012. The resolution, adopted by the AVA on May 9, 2007, took a leadership position on farm animal housing by calling for the veal community to transition all veal farms to group housing by Dec. 31, 2017.
“As farmers, we have an obligation to provide for the well-being of the animals in our care,” said Jurian Bartelse, a New York veal farmer and President of the AVA. “In 2005 we built state-of-the-art group houses at our farm and have been pleased with our ability to continue to provide excellent care and produce the high-quality veal our customers expect.”
Veal farmers have traditionally housed calves in individual pens in order to ensure the individual requirements of food, water and comfort were all met. In 2007, the AVA recognized that ongoing research, field results and new technology offer veal farmers new tools that would allow them to provide excellent and individual care in groups. Veal farmers continue to refine and perfect group housing options.
Chris Landwehr, a veal farmer from DePere, WI, is one of a growing number of producers who have already converted to the group housing system. He estimates that it costs $30,000 to switch an average-sized barn from individual to group housing, but thinks it is something every veal producer should pursue. “I grew up on a veal farm and have always understood that individual stalls meant individual care so I was skeptical in the beginning,” Landwehr said. “ I view the group housing method as a win-win for everyone. Customers are more comfortable with this approach and I can still provide the same level of care I provided with the traditional method.”
“Today’s consumers demand that the food they purchase is safe, wholesome and raised in a way that is consistent with their expectations,” noted Bartelse. “Veal consumers are particularly discriminating. By providing leadership on veal housing, veal farmers are able to assure our customers that we provide our animals with quality care while producing the wholesome and safe veal products they demand.”
The AVA estimates that U.S. veal farmers will spend $250 million over 10 years on new technology to retrofit or build new barns to accommodate group-housing methods. Typical veal farms in the U.S. are small, family farms with 200-250 animals and generally located in states with significant dairy production. Veal farmers raise the male Holstein calves born on dairy farms and utilize the milk byproducts produced at dairy farms.
“Our partnership with the dairy community allows for more sustainable food production,” said Bartelse. “Veal calves rely on milk by-products for nutrition, and veal farmers rely on dairy farmers to provide them with the calves we raise. Dairy farmers depend on the veal industry to purchase these items and add value to their industry.”
In December 2011, the AVA conducted a member survey to determine progress being made toward the 2017 commitment. AVA members include four of the top five veal processors/packers and three of the top five veal producers. “Our members represent the leading veal producers and packers, and a majority of the milk-fed veal calves on farms,” said Bartelse. “And our survey shows the commitment of the veal community in meeting consumer demands. The move toward group housing was embraced early by the leadership of AVA, and today, farmer members and non-members continue to move in that direction.”