Investigation into the export of unweaned calves to mainland Europe

Ethical Farming Ireland recently assisted Eyes on Animals in an investigation into the export of unweaned calves from Ireland to mainland Europe, accompanied by MEP Anja Hazekamp. We were focusing on what happens to the calves at the marts and what they go through before ending up on the trucks at the ports to be shipped to Cherbourg and beyond, so we could get a real picture of how long the calves are going without feed.

First we went to Lenehan’s assembly centre in Sandyford. There were no animals there but we talked to the manager who showed us a large, straw filled barn with feeding equipment, where the calves stay and are fed during the morning before being loaded onto the trucks for the trip to Rosslare. The facilities looked good but as the ferry leaves at 21:00 in the evening the calves will have already gone without feed for a substantial amount of time before embarking on the 18 hour ferry journey. The manager told us that some of the calves have to wait 5 or 6 hours at the lairage in Cherbourg before being fed as thousands arrive at the same time and they have to wait their turn at the feeding station. He also said the quality of milk given to the calves is very poor and that the drivers are not allowed into the lairage.

We then went to Enniscorthy cattle mart where a large number of calves for export were for sale, some only 10 days old with their umbilical cords still attached. Some of the pens were very overcrowded so the calves could not lie down and none of them had water. Some calves looked like they had diarrhea and empty stomachs. It was a noisy, stressful environment for the young animals and some were still there at 19:30 in the evening. None stayed overnight.

Calves cannot be exported until 15 days old so the younger calves sold at marts will go to an assembly centre, farm or exporters premises for a few days before the journey.

Next stop was Bandon Mart. The calf sale was at 18:00 and the calves normally get there at least two hours before, but an advertisement said calves could be taken in from 14:00. Some of the pens were overcrowded, again many calves had diarrhea and hollow stomachs, but they all had a water trough with clean water. The mart was very noisy and hectic with calves running around stressed and confused being roughly handled and a teenage boy who was working there kept hitting them with a whip-like implement. An older teenage girl was seen bending their tails back and pulling them to get the calves to move, which is painful and can damage the spine. We spoke to someone in charge and asked if the calves would be fed. He said no but they would all be leaving the mart that evening. However, we returned to the mart the following morning and saw two livestock trucks there and were immediately hit by the sound of bawling calves. We found the mart manager and also a DAFM vet who was there to check the calves for the loading. They let us in and told us that the calves were just starting to be fed – this was around 10:30 in the morning. We were told calves for export that day would be fed later. We saw the calves feeding but could not take any photos. The mart manager told us the calves are fed on the farm before arriving at the mart and they get one feed at the mart the following day, which was happening when we were there.

We saw one of the trucks leaving at 15:33 and it arrived at Rosslare port at 19:10. The ferry left at 21:08 and arrived in Cherbourg the following day at 14:44 Irish time.

This is best case scenario in relation to feeding intervals for the calves that were exported from Bandon Mart:

02.03.22 – calves fed on farm at around 14:00 (they need to rest for at least one hour after feeding, preferably more, and should have arrived at the mart before 16:00)

03.03.22 – calves fed at the mart at around 13:00 (first loading was around 14:30 but they were probably fed in the morning when we saw others being fed)

04.03.22 – calves fed at the lairage in Cherbourg at around 16:44 (the ferry arrived at 14:44 our time and it takes two hours to get to the lairage and unload. In reality it was probably later than that)

This means those calves went 27 hours 45 minutes with no feed, for some it will have been a lot longer. Plus before that they had to endure a 23 hour period with no feed so will have already been in a weakened state. They will have been on the truck for over 26 hours which is a breach of Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport that states unweaned calves can be transported for a maximum of 19 hours. Calves of this age have underdeveloped immune systems and cannot regulate their body temperature effectively making them susceptible to disease. They also have little body fat in reserve to keep them going through the long, arduous journey. It’s not surprising that some die on the way. What is surprising is that more of them don’t.

A report has been sent to all relevant stakeholders and authorities asking them to take responsibility and measures to remedy this inhumane and illegal trade. You can read it here: Transport of unweaned calves from Ireland

There is also a short video that summarises the investigation:

With dairy calf births increasing by 1.5% on last year and accounting for over 85% of all calf births it’s no surprise that both calf export and calf slaughter has increased significantly this year. Already over 70,000 calves have been exported, around a 20% increase on last year. Plus around 25,000 calves have been slaughtered which is also a significant increase on last year’s figure. There have been numerous articles on poor quality calves at the mart that nobody wants. What happens to them when they can’t even be given away? Slaughter?

What these calves are put through is unethical, immoral and cruel. We cannot claim to be an animal loving nation when hundreds of thousands of young, vulnerable animals are treated so appallingly, just because the farmers that breed them don’t want to take care of them. There is a better way of doing dairy, where calves stay with their mothers until weaned. It doesn’t have to be this cruel. The industry must be changed from within.






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