Cattle - Is there cruelty involved?
In 2006 there were nearly 27 million cattle in Australia. Around 3 million of these were dairy cows, with the remaining 24 million raised for beef. The largest numbers are found primarily in Queensland, followed by NSW and Victoria. (ABS 2006 report)
What are the cruelty issues with cattle? (An Animal Rights Perspective)
In Australia both sheep and cattle are kept on very large grazing properties. This is referred to as extensive grazing systems. Beef cattle are kept in most areas of Australia from across the top end and into the arid inland areas. Because of vegetation being so sparse the cattle are spread over large areas and productivity is low. Cattle can also be found in the dry outback, such as the Alice Springs region. Temperatures here can be scorching, and droughts are common. Many cattle, especially breeding females, die in these tough conditions. Because the grazing systems in harsh areas such as Alice Springs are so extensive cattle receive little or no attention to their care. Factors such as high temperatures reaching as high as 35-45c, low quality forage, external parasites (Boophilus micro plus), and predation from dingoes results in large numbers dying. Farmers claim that death rates among cattle in these conditions are low, but the Department of Primary Industry estimate that close to 10% of cows die in the Alice Springs region alone. (www.dpi.vic.gov.au -Nationals Livestock Identification System database)
Death rates among female cattle are generally higher due to calving problems and nutritional stress while feeding the calf. In the Kimberley region of northern WA, an estimated 14%-18% die each year. Up to 50% die when the weather becomes particularly harsh. It is difficult to find exact numbers and so death rates are based on estimates because farmers do not even know their true cattle numbers at any given time.
Cattle that are kept in milder climates, share their grazing land with sheep and crops. They are often grazed on improved pastures and bred for maximise size. This results in an increasing number of heifers having calving difficulties. Some heifers and calves die in the process with estimates being 20% to 50% requiring calving assistance.
An increasing number of cattle are transported by trucks from pasture to feedlots. Here they are to be fattened before slaughtering. Queensland and NSW have the most feedlots.
Are there any other cruelty issues involved?
Yes. Most cattle are subjected to a number of surgical mutilations throughout their lives. Go here for a list of husbandry stipulations by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
To partially compensate for the lack of individual attention, and to modify animal behaviours or reduce the impact of outcomes which are unwanted or uneconomic, these animals have a number of ‘surgical mutilations' performed upon them, usually without any pain relief.
The pain and suffering caused to these farm animals is usually described in the relevant Code of Practice and is thus considered ‘routine' and is exempted from the animal welfare laws in each State and Territory of Australia.
- Sterilisation without painkillers:
Some female cattle are desexed without any pain killers by making a cut in their side and pulling out the ovaries. Males are castrated by removing the testicles with a knife or by placing a rubber ring around the scrotum, again without any pain killers. Some cattle die of infections, and most will have a growth set back during recovery.
The CSIRO has developed a vaccine (Vaxstrate) which immunizes cattle (male and female), affecting their reproductive hormones and preventing conception. Regrettably this is not widely used, particularly due to the need for two injections and thus the animals must be mustered twice - a task not welcomed by farmers on extensive properties
Hot iron branding
- Iron branding:
Other procedures include hot iron branding of some, freeze branding of others, spaying of cattle inremote rangelands, and disbudding of ‘bobby' calves and dehorning of mature cattle. Analgesia is not used.
Calves are often dehorned to prevent damage or bruising to their carcass during slaughter. Calves may be dehorned with bolt cutters, scoop dehorners or a butchers saw. This causes pain, bleeding and exposure of the frontal sinuses in older animals. The pain can last 6 hours after dehorning. Dehorning is often done without the use of anaesthetics.
What are feedlots?
According to the National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia (2nd Edition), a beef feedlot is defined as "a confined yard area with watering and feeding facilities where cattle are completely hand or mechanically fed for the purpose of production. "Feedlots ensure that cattle are fed a scientifically formulated grain-based ration to reach target specifications over a defined feeding period."
Due to the increase in demand for beef throughout the year, feedlots have been established to counter the impact of seasonal variability factors, such as drought, availability of natural vegetation, season extremes etc. Currently there are 692 accredited feedlots in Australia representing a total capacity of more then 1.1 million cattle. (Australian Lot Feeders' Association, ALFA).
"By providing well-finished cattle 365 days a year through all types of seasonal conditions, feedlots ensure a consistent supply of beef to customers. They can also produce different categories of beef to meet varying customer requirements." (ALFA)
A new feedlot survey shows that the number of cattle on grain in Australia were at their second highest level ever recorded (Meat and Livestock Australia-MLA in conjunction with the ALFA, 2007) The survey revealed that 908, 820 head of cattle were being grain fed during the December 2006 quarter, up 24% on the same period the year before.
Feedlots are in three areas being those in southern Queensland, the Riverina on NSW and the northern slopes of NSW. An increasing number of cattle are being sent to feedlots to be fattened for the last few months of their lives. Many abattoirs and meat processing facilities may also be found in adjacent areas near the feedlot.
What's wrong with feedlots? (An Animal Rights Perspective)
Cattle are rudiment creatures with the need to graze, sometimes up to 9 hours a day if in a grazing pasture. In feedlots this is not available to them as the cattle are fed an unnatural grain diet, which can cause digestive problems. The so called "scientifically formulated grain-based" diet is a high energy one designed to fatten the cattle quickly. Even though it is introduced to the cattle gradually, acidosis and other nutritional diseases are the most common health problems. To help reducing incidences of digestive problems, low levels of antibiotics may be mixed into the feed over a long period to help prevent bloat and acidosis. This in itself can be problematic as it leads to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
As stipulated by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, feed-related illnesses associated with feedlots include the following:
Example of sick cattle
- Grain poisoning/acidosis*
- Ergot poisoning
- Feedlot bloating*
- Founder *
- Polioencephalomalacia, PEM
- Ionophore poisoning
- Urea poisoning
- Urinary calculi, urolithiasis - bladder stones
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Vitam E deficiency
*if animal recovers, culling is suggested (NSW Dept of Primary Industries)
Other diseases unrelated to feed but related to feedlots:
- Bovine respiratory disease
- Foot abscess or footrot
- Pinkeye, infectious keratoconjunctivitis
- Heat stress
Some feedlots have shade, but some don't and cattle are forced to stand in the hot sun. In 1991, 2500 cattle died of heat stroke on the huge Whyalla Feedlot near the Queensland-NSW border. Although feedlots may have shade and cooling systems, the Code Of Practice still allows feedlots to be unshaded:
"The provision of shade or alternative means of cooling, such as misters or sprays, may be required and should be considered where the temperature exceeds 30ºC for an annual period of 750 hours "
Code of Practice- Cattle
Due to the ineffectiveness of the Code of Practice when enforcing the welfare of animals in agriculture, some feedlots refuse to provide proper shade. In late February 2000, over 1000 cattle died of heat stress in the Prime City feedlot in the Riverina. (Myers F, "Feedlot deaths probe", Weekly Times , 8/3/2000)
Since feedlots bring large numbers of animals into a single area, there is an accumulation of huge quantities of waste. A steer weighing approximately 450kg can produce up to 30kg of wet manure and urine each day. Therefore, a large feedlot with close to 30,000 cattle can produce over 850,000kg of excrement every day. Waste from feedlots can seep into ground water, run off into creeks and rivers effecting natural ecosystems. Refer to the Environment Section for more information about the linking of factory farms to environmental problems.
Are cattle fed growth hormones?
Cattle are not fed growth hormones. Instead many cattle have slow release hormonal implants punched into their ear to make them grow faster. The most commonly used hormone is estradiol, but sometimes progesterone or testosterone are also used. Australia uses these hormones while the European Union has banned the use of growth promotants.
The Live Export Horror
Just like the millions of sheep destined for overseas market and cruelty, thousands of cattle are also exported. And just like sheep, many cattle are prone to sickness, dehydration, starvation and crippling while on the cattle ship. Undercover investigations by Animals Australia found that Australian bred cattle were treated cruelly, especially in Egypt. Actions such as slicing the back tendons of cattle and blinding them by stabbing knives into their eyes, were commonly carried out in the effort to get the frightened animals into the slaughter rooms. Furthermore, the slaughtering involved holding and twisting the neck while a dull knife was used to slice the artery in the throat. Both the Australian Government and the Industries involved in the rearing and transportation of cattle refuse to do anything to help their Australian animals.
So what's wrong with extensive cattle production?
Besides the welfare issues such as mutilations and unnatural living conditions, the live export issue, as well as the effect on the environment, people also need to be aware of the large amounts of resources that are required. Every year over 1 million tonnes of grain are fed to cattle in Australian Feedlots to provide fatty beef destined for the Japanese market. Cattle are very inefficient in converting grain into flesh that can be consumed by humans. It takes approximately 7.45kg of feed to produce only 1.1kg of weight gain (Howard K, "Beef cattle feedlot - working out the cost of fattening", Farmnote AGDEX 420/821, Queensland Department of Primary Industries). For the period 1994/1995, feedlots consumed approximately 2.3 million tonnes of feed commodities of which 1.5 million tonnes was grain. (ALFA)
Furthermore, not all of the weight gain is edible, because it includes bones, fat etc. More food would be available at lower costs to humans if they ate grain fed to the cattle, rather than the cattle.
What can you do?
- Become vegetarian or vegan. By not eating beef, or any type of meat, means you are not supporting the cruelty involved. Furthermore, by not eating meat means you are not contributiong to land degredation and destruction of the ozone.
- Tell others about the practises involved and that eating beef is now more than just easting a cow. Let them know that their diet choice is contributing greatly to environmental damage.
- Write a letter to the Australian Government informing them of both your outrage and disgust in Australia's involvement in the Live Export Trade. Visit the ACT page on letter examples, as well as other action ideas.
Want more information?
Animal Rights Websites:
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