Sir Henry backlash induces support
The dairy cow scientist who pioneered inducing late calving dairy cows at Ruakura 40 years ago says the impending ban will result in pregnant cows being sent to the meatworks.
British shoppers have threatened a boycott of New Zealand dairy products after Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden admitted the practice to raise production on his four Putaruru farms.
It is against the principles of industry best practice and will be outlawed by mid-2012.
Dr Robert Welch, who pioneered the practice at Ruakura in the 1960s with the late Sir Graham Liggins and introduced it to farmers in the early 1970s, said the upcoming ban was driven by marketeers.
Dr Welch said the marketing people at the New Zealand Dairy Board, which preceded Fonterra, did not like the idea and neither do their contemporaries who are worried what it will do to New Zealand’s image overseas.
‘‘The marketing people, rightly or wrongly, have decided if we go on with the practice here people are against it. That will be at the cost of losing more good cows from our dairy farms,’’ said Dr Welch, who lives in Hamilton.
‘‘The idea came out of the veterinary profession.’’
By 1971, when the practice had been widely accepted in the dairy industry, about 300,000 of New Zealand’s two million cows were induced. These days, Dr Welch said, it was about 150,000 cows of the four million-strong herd that were induced. ‘‘We are not killing the foetus, we are kick-starting a natural process.’’
Dr Welch said his studies showed the calves of cows induced three weeks before they were due had just as much chance of sur- vival as calves which went full term.
Meanwhile Sir Henry has courted a groundswell of support from farmers who practise inducing on their farms.
Lloyd Downing, vice-chairman of the National Agricultural Fieldays and a Morrinsville dairy farmer, said animal welfare was put above human welfare in New Zealand.
‘‘It’s okay to pull babies out of women – we do 18,000 a year – but we are not allowed to abort an animal,’’ he said. ‘‘If you want us all to be vegans that’s fine.’’
About 30 of Mr Downing’s 550 cows were induced this season.
‘‘It’s more than we normally do. I cannot say that every one was euthanased, the majority of them were – 95 per cent would have been. If we had not induced those 30 cows they would have been sent to the South Island, stuck on a truck for 14 hours, or they would have had their heads cut off,’’ he said.
‘‘We are getting over three dry years and this country is in a deep depression and we need to make every dollar we can. Bobby calves are worth so little, on average $17. When it’s illegal we will move on to something else.’’
Alison Dewes, a Waikato vet who has been dairy farming for 20 years, said apart from the obvious welfare considerations the economics of the practice alone would make any thinking farmer seriously consider whether it was worth it.
‘‘Dr John Morton’s work in Victoria, Australia, demonstrated that there was a loss of 9 per cent, or $180 per cow, along with $40 plus costs of treatment. There would have to be a pretty strong case to do it,’’ she said.
UNDER FIRE: Sir Henry van der Heyden has been under fire in the past few weeks after revelations cows were inducted on his Putaruru farms.