Veal calf production



Given that there are over 9 million dairy cows in the United States, and that delivering calves is critical to continued milk production, there are several million bull calves born every year. A small percent of these bulls are retained for natural breeding purposes, but many more are sold into the veal market or fed out as steers. Along with market (cull) cows, dairy bull/steer beef comprises 20% of the beef market in the United States. Since over 90% of dairy cows are Holstein, a similar proportion of veal calves are of this breed.


Classes of calves

               Bob veal calves

               These are calves that are sold and slaughtered within the first few days of life, and represent about 30% of the calf numbers slaughtered. By industry standards, a calf must be less than 3 weeks of age and 150 pounds live weight to be regarded as bob veal.

               Animal health issues are most prevalent within the first few weeks of life; therefore, bob veal calves have the highest residue problems. Some of the possible causes of these residues are 1) using a milk replacer containing antibiotics, 2) feeding colostrum or milk from cows treated with antibiotics, or 3) possible transfer of antibiotics across the placenta.


               Formula-fed veal calves

               This represents the majority of veal calves slaughtered (approximately 60% of total). These calves are fed a milk-based liquid diet, which maintains the calf as a non-ruminating or pre-ruminant animal. This results in a pale color of lean tissue, which is sometimes referred to as “special-fed” or “fancy” veal. These calves are slaughtered at up to 20 weeks of age, and the current industry practice is to feed these calves up to 475 to 500 pounds live weight at slaughter.

               Formula-fed veal production is concentrated in seven states, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Wisconsin. Housing in these systems is environmentally controlled, with insulation against extreme temperatures, supplementary heat and light when indicated, well-ventilated, sanitized, with adequate space for the calves to stand, stretch, move, lie in natural positions, and groom themselves.

               Very few therapeutic drugs are approved for use in veal calves. This leads to a great deal of extra-label drug use (under AMDUCA guidelines). This is possible only when there are no approved alternatives, and suffering or death is likely to occur without treatment. The drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian under a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship, and entails comprehensive record keeping and labeling. Production enhancing drugs are not allowed under AMDUCA. Since calves arrive at veal calf facilities from many points of origin, there is great potential for exposure to a wide range of pathogens. This results in many of the calves requiring some form of therapeutic treatment at or soon after receipt.

               The American Veal Association administers a Veal Quality Assurance Program, which provides educational programs and guidelines on management, nutrition, facilities, health care, ventilation, and veal calf products.


               Non-formula-fed calves

               Less than 5% of calves slaughtered fall into this category. These calves are weaned from liquid diets and provided grain-based diets, which results in a red color to the meat. They are ruminating animals when slaughtered between 150 and 400 pounds live weight. The industry refers to grain-fed calves as “red veal”.


               Heavy calves

               Calves in this category are fed grain and forage based diets, are ruminating animals, and are slaughtered at greater than 400 pounds live weight. Given the diet, the meat is a red color. Less than 5% of calves slaughtered are in this category.