The end of dairy’s ‘dirty secret’? Farms have a year to stop killing male calves

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Supermarket support and rising use of sexed semen expected to help UK farmers meet new welfare rules by the end of 2021

Dairy farmers have until the end of next year to prove they are no longer killing male calves on-farm under new rules which will apply to nearly all UK farms from January, the Guardian has learned.

The number of male calves being killed straight after birth, known as the “dirty secret” among farmers, has prompted outrage from animal welfare groups and many within the farming sector.

A Guardian investigation in 2018 estimated that 95,000 were being killed every year within a few days of birth. The lack of viable markets for bull calves and public apathy towards consuming British rosé veal had meant it was sometimes cheaper to kill calves rather than rear them.

However, a rise in the use of sexed semen, which dramatically reduces the number of male calves born, and new retailer policies to help farmers find markets for their calves is leading to a fall in animals being killed.

Around 60,000 male calves are now killed on-farm every year, according to industry estimates, which is around 15% of the bull calves born on dairy farms. But this figure is expected to drop significantly with new rules restricting the killing of calves coming into force from next year.

Related: England and Wales to ban live animal exports in European first

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