Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Cow inductions land Fonterra boss in hot water

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The head of the world's largest dairy co-op has created a storm of controversy after he admitted that hundreds of his cows have been induced on his farms.

Henry van der Heyden milks more than 1,700 cows on his farms at Putaruru on New Zealand's North Island.

He is also the chairman of New Zealand's super-dairy, Fonterra, which has a stated policy of phasing out the practice of inducing cows by 2012.

However, in a recent television interview, Mr van der Heyden, admitted that inducing cows to calve remains standard practice on his farms.

Dairy cows that are due to calve later than the majority of the herd are induced up to 12 weeks before they are due. Most of the calves are stillborn or killed shortly afterwards. However, the practice allows farmers to bring the cow back into milk and ready for synchronised mating with the rest of the herd.

The procedure should require a vet to administer the steroid that causes the calf to be born prematurely. However, official veterinary data shows that only 2pc of the five million dairy cows in New Zealand were induced this year, despite industry targets being 15pc and reports that Mr van der Heyden's own herd had an induction rate of 11pc.

Fonterra, industry organisation DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, the New Zealand Veterinary Association and the Dairy Companies Association recently agreed on an operational plan to phase out inductions, which are thought likely to damage New Zealand's international reputation. Agriculture Minister David Carter recently said it was "a bad look" in overseas markets.

When asked why up to 200 calves were induced on his farms this year, Mr van der Heyden replied that "it's like many other farmers, it's about driving productivity. It's to get cows to produce milk over a longer period of the season."

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He also insisted that the induction rates on his four farms at Putaruru were within current industry guidelines.

The admission has created a heated debate in New Zealand, particularly with animal welfare lobbyists, who describe the practice as "appalling".

Hans Kriek, campaign director for Save Animals from Exploitation, said the New Zealand dairy industry originally promised it would phase out inductions by last month.

"On the one hand Fonterra comes out and says it [inductions] should not be done and then he [Henry] does it himself."

When questioned as to why he continued with drug-prompted inductions when the organisation that he has chaired since 2002 [Fonterra] had stated it did not support the practice, Mr van der Heyden said "but I'm supporting phasing it out over a period of time".

Asked by the television reporter to confirm if 200 cows were induced, he said: "I will have to go back and check the records, but it looks like you know more than I do."

Dr Clive Dalton, a retired agricultural scientist involved in helping draft animal welfare codes, said there was no reason why farmers couldn't stop inductions immediately.

"Henry really should have showed more leadership," he said. Dr Dalton said inductions would not be necessary if farmers didn't overstock with "skinny" cows and kept fewer, healthier cows.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said inductions were used by farmers in the "hugely challenging" job every spring of matching calving spread to peak grass growth.

To feed cows well and maximise milk production, calves need to be born between August 1 and October 10, he said.

Induction of cows is not allowed in Ireland, although industry sources claim the practice is widespread in certain dairy systems here.

Irish Independent