OPINION: In light of the recent story around the footage of a farmer in Chile euthanising some calves, there has been a lot of uproar and emotion. To me it is understandable because I know just how awful it feels to have to euthanise an animal and how bad things look with limited information.
It is no fun shooting an animal, and anyone who has done it can tell you that it is not an easy job, either in the practical or emotional sense. But if you are to work with animals you need to have the strength to take responsibility for that animal and be there for them when they need you.
Recently, I found a cow in the paddock with a broken leg and I had to put her down. It was horrible, but what would have been worse is if I had left her and waited for a vet to come, which could have been the following day. On some properties the farmer can be over an hour's round trip from parts of the farm. So when you encounter an animal in pain and distress, such as a botched attempt at poaching, then you need to have a means to end their suffering. Banning emergency measures would be wrong but neither should it be the first measure.
We have rules and guidelines around what we can and cannot do, for this very reason, so that farmers do not have to let an animal suffer. These rules have to be realistic and practical otherwise farmers won't be able to do what is right and help put the animal out of its misery.
What was shown in that footage may have looked brutal to most, out of context or even in context. However, I am not jumping on the bandwagon of making a villain out of the farmer in question, because I don't know what situation he was in, what tools he had available or the condition of the animals. But, at the same time, I don't want to endorse unnecessary cruelty to animals, if that was the case.
The situation seems to be pretty complicated in Chile, where calves, it seems, were only allowed to be euthanised by vets. I have heard they now have a means to safely and humanely collect calves, which is a positive step.
The reality of being a farmer, such as I had the other day when I found one of my cows with a broken leg, is that you are faced with horrible choices to make. The deal-breaker is always the animal's wellbeing - nothing should stand in the way of putting an animal out of its misery, yet there need to be standards for how this is done - not every farmer has a gun.
We have exceptionally strict codes of practice relating to how we treat young calves. That includes their treatment on- farm, when they are transported and then how they are processed.
There are also guidelines on humane slaughter. It does not matter if it's for human or pet food, all calves must be accorded respect and care. As the main calving takes place in the winter to early spring, these codes are monitored closely by our Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). Inspectors even ride on stock trucks and I understand from MPI that these codes are rightly being adhered to. Moreover calving and lambing is the busiest period for vets so there are plenty of eyes out there.
Exports of veal and beef from bobby calves are worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It's not a throw-away commodity as some might suggest in the wake of this story. Farmers invest in the welfare of their stock for many reasons but the biggest being is that they are why we farm. No one likes to see an animal suffer, lest of all a farmer.
*James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.
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