Managing dairy bull calves

A new Soil Association initiative is helping organic dairy producers to develop individual plans to stop killing healthy dairy calves...

From 1 January 2010, an important change to Soil Association standards on calf welfare came into force.

This change was agreed and communicated to organic dairy producers last year and seeks to ensure that any producers who are still culling dairy bred bull calves put in place a clear plan (with timescales) to end this practice. Soil Association standards also prohibit calves from organic farms going for export – unless for breeding purposes – and this has partly been achieved by not allowing the sale of calves under 30 days old into markets. The aim of both standards is obviously to protect the integrity of organic farming in the areas of animal welfare and resource use.

Some producers have understandably expressed concerns about these changes – especially in light of falling milk prices – while others have requested clarification on the changes. The Soil Association is working hard to find a way through this difficult situation so that we can meet our objective of ensuring that every organically born calf is treated to the highest welfare standards, without causing unnecessary complications or economic loss for dairy producers – especially those already burdened by bovine tuberculosis restrictions.

"It’s time to take action on the culling of dairy bred male calves", says Helen Browning in an article which appears in Organic Farming magazine (issue #102). This useful read provides an outline of the key issues, as well as a discussion of the possible future solutions for ensuring that every calf has a productive, comfortable life. "As organic dairy producers, I believe that it is part of our job – and our responsibility – to help this modest ambition become a reality," Helen says.

Case studies

As part of the organic dairy calf initiative, the Soil Association is producing a number of practical case studies, presenting real examples of farming systems which avoid putting down calves at birth: 

Source or sell organic dairy calves

Use the Soil Association's Organic Marketplace to buy or sell organic dairy calves.