8. Bulls to You
BULLS TO YOU
There are many different systems for raising cattle for meat, the least intensive being the suckler herd. The calf is kept with his mother or another lactating cow until weaned and is then put on grass until he is heavy enough to be killed at about two years old. At the other end of the spectrum, the most intensive method is where calves are taken from their mothers at birth and reared in pens on milk replacer and pellets.
During the first week of their lives they are usually castrated and have their horn buds chemically burnt out without anaesthetic.
During the first week of their lives they are usually castrated and have their horn buds chemically burnt out without anaesthetic. In the case of older cows a hot iron might be used and, theoretically at any rate, an anaesthetic. To put weight on before slaughter they are taken to fattening sheds and fed on high quality cereals. There may be straw bedding but it is becoming common to use slatted concrete floors on which cattle find it difficult to stand, often resulting in lameness. Some farms keep up to 8,000 animals this way, cramming them into sheds to stop them from moving around and ‘wasting’ energy in keeping warm. They gain weight quickly and are ready for slaughter at only 11 to 12 months old.
Dairy cows are often impregnated with beef bull semen and these ‘weightier’ calves – male and female – are sold to be grown on for beef and often finish up in intensive units. In fact, 40 per cent of all beef in Britain comes from dairy cows, so beef and dairy farming are intricately linked(18).