Bobby calf death rate halved over a year - but still room for improvement
Bobby calf deaths more than halved after a big improvement in their transportation welfare last spring.
A new report from the Ministry for Primary Industries showed the mortality rate went from 0.25 per cent in 2015 to 0.12 per cent last year.
Last year 2255 calves were reported dead or condemned during the time they were collected for transport to their slaughter from 1,935,054 calves processed.
In 2015, 2,171,995 calves were processed with 5390 reported dead, the report said.
Minister for primary industries, Nathan Guy, said the report's findings showed that new regulations and education campaigns had made a real difference.
"As well as the big drop in mortality, calves are also arriving in much better health and condition. This is also a significant drop from 2008 when the mortality rate was 0.68 per cent."
Vets were present at nearly every processing facility to monitor calves as they were unloaded. Since August 1, they issued 10 infringement notices to transporters for sending calves that were not physically fit for transportation.
One dairy farmer received two infringement notices for transporting calves that were less than four days old and transporting scouring calves showing diarrhoea.
Each infringement notice resulted in a $500 fine. In addition, the transport industry was issued with 127 warning letters and farmers 208 warning letters.
The report said farmer numbers receiving letters and infringements was low, as there were 12,000 dairy farms in New Zealand.
The Road Transport Forum estimated there were 180 livestock transport companies in New Zealand. The report also found the number of warning letters and infringements issued to transport operators was relatively low as 1.9 million calves were transported during the season.
"While there are still a few in the industry who need to improve their behaviour, this provides strong evidence that things are improving, " Guy said.
"This is the first season with tighter new rules and regulations for handling bobby calves. From August 1 this year it will also be a requirement to have loading and unloading facilities when young calves are transported for sale and slaughter and appropriate shelter."
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Andrew Hoggard said farmers in Waikato, Taranaki, the West Coast and Northland potentially had more work to do around meeting the new regulations.
Historically, farmers in the provinces often housed calves in cages. Any farmers needing to upgrade their facilities should do their homework first and consider what would save time and effort rather than rushing out and spending money, he said.
"Sit down and think about how I can actually make this system easier and better for me. Calving is a busy time and you want to use your time as well as you can."
In other regions where there had been newer dairy conversions it was more likely that farmers had built loading facilities closer to the new regulations, he said.
Hoggard said while the improvement in mortality rates was good news, he believed there was still room for further improvement by farmers.
"As an industry we need to keep pushing as hard as we can to get to zero [mortality] and better understand the mortality rates we do get - what it's caused by and if it can point to a cause, we need to come up with solutions."
The industry also had to keep coming up with solutions where farmers were not having to send bobby calves for processing, such as further integration with the beef industry, he said.