Ohio veal producers prepared for barn changes

Ohio veal producers are ready for the changing livestock housing requirements put in place by the industry about a decade ago. The new housing changes and other requirements were decided by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. Veal farms have to comply beginning on Jan. 1, 2018.

“Around 10 years ago, the veal industry decided to move away from tethers and stalls and move into group housing,” said Marissa Hake, veterinarian with the American Veal Association. “We’ve achieved that goal with 100% of our barns now group house. Most of those calves are raised in either pens of two to 10 where they can stand up or lay down, groom naturally and interact with other calves.”

Ohio is one of the top veal producing states, an industry that trends closely with dairy production.

“There’s quite a bit of veal production in Ohio. Indiana is our number one state. Veal production is obviously very closely related to the dairy industry,” she said. “Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York — those are your major veal-producing states.”

Those states have been the focus of animal rights groups in recent years, though Ohio set itself apart with the passing of Issue 2 in 2009, which gives power to the Livestock Care Standards Board — a group of 13 members from farming, veterinary, academic, food safety, animal care and consumer interest backgrounds tasked with annually reviewing the standards and recommending any appropriate changes to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, veal calves must be housed in group pens by 10 weeks of age. Additionally, whether housed in individual stalls or group pens the calves must be allowed to turn around and cannot be tethered. Also effective Jan. 1, tail docking on dairy cattle can only be performed by a licensed veterinarian and if only medically necessary.

The changes were recommended by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, submitted to the ODA and ultimately approved by the Ohio legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

Ellen Essman, Ohio State University Law Fellow in the Agricultural & Resource Law Program, summarized the rule changes for 2018. Specifically, the regulations for veal address housing for veal calves weighing 750 pounds or less. Currently, veal calves may be tethered or non-tethered in stalls of a minimum of 2 feet by 5.5 feet, Essman wrote in a recent Ohio Agricultural Law blog. In 2018, the following housing standards will apply:

  • Tethering will be permitted only to prevent naval and cross sucking and as restraint for examinations, treatments and transit, if: the tether is long enough to allow the veal calf to stand, groom, eat, lie down comfortably and rest in a natural posture; the tether’s length and collar size is checked every other week and adjusted as necessary.
  • Individual pens must allow for quality air circulation, provide opportunity for socialization, allow calves to stand without impediment, provide for normal resting postures, grooming, eating and lying down, and must be large enough to allow calves to turn around.
  • By the time they are 10 weeks old, veal calves must be housed in group pens. The regulations currently require that group pens meet the above standards required for individual pens and also must contain at least two calves with a minimum area of 14 square feet per calf, must separate calves of substantially different sizes and that calves must be monitored daily for naval and cross sucking and be moved to individual pens or provided other intervention for naval or cross sucking.

“We responded to the market concerns with our housing,” Hake said. “Another thing is that veal size and age has changed a lot over the 10 years. Nowadays cows go to market around four to five months old — sometimes up to six months — and they’re around 450 to 500 pounds. So those older facilities were not made for that size of calf. As an industry, we had to change over our facilities just based on our market changes.

“They transitioned those barns so they either remodeled older barns intro group housing pens or a lot of guys have actually built new facilities. They put around $50 million into these new facilities. They’re beautiful, they’re naturally ventilated, they’re open to the outside, we have beautiful stainless steel pens — so it’s a pretty cool story to tell.”

From a veterinarian’s standpoint, the pens are advantageous.

“Those pens were made to improve the welfare of the calves,” Hake said. “So we were really happy with them. A lot of the flooring that we used is nonslip. It’s really clean so when the calves go to market they’re actually exceptionally clean which is good from a food safety standpoint.”

Along with the pen changes, U.S. veal producers are facing other challenges.

“One is just our marketing. We’re a very small industry even though we’re really closely related to the dairy industry. So getting out there and telling our story is a big challenge. We’re also always concerned with our market. We want people to eat American veal, but there are always challenges with international markets coming in,” she said.

The American Veal Association continues to work closely with producers.

“Everyday we’re out in barns working with independent growers. A lot of them are independent growers, so they’re small, family farms with around 200 calves on average for each farm. It’s definitely your smaller, family-raised farms,” Hake said. “Once we get them, we’ll take care of them.”


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