Facts on Veal Calves

Veal calves, for the most part, are unwanted male calves from dairy breeds—primarily the offspring of Holstein cows.

With the advent of artificial insemination, only highly bred pedigree bulls who sire high producing cows are kept for breeding and consequently, and male calves have little value to the dairy farmer.

Four categories of veal calves:

  • "Bob" veal calves are newborns, some with umbilical cords still hanging from their abdomens, up to three weeks of age. About 15% of veal calves are marketed as Bob Veal.1 Meat from these calves goes into hot dogs and prepared sandwich meats.
  • "Milk fed" veal calves are often anemic.2 The calves are fed a low iron diet to produce the most desired white meat. They are fed milk replacer, which can be laced with antibiotics in order to control the diarrhea that is caused by an inadequate diet.3,4,5,6 These calves are restricted from moving and spend their lives in small stalls or hutches. They are slaughtered at 18 to 20 weeks of age. Calves can be so crippled from confinement that they have to be helped into the truck or trailer on the way to the slaughter plant.
  • "Red" veal calves are fed milk replacer plus grain and hay. They are allowed to move about in large pens. The meat is thought to be less desirable because it is more red and not the highly desired white meat.7,8,9 These calves have a healthier diet, including grain and hay, and are able to freely move.
  • "Free raised" veal calves stay with their mothers in the pasture. They get their mother's milk and grass. They are healthy because they get colostrum from the dams over a longer period of time which gives them a stronger immune system. They get the food they need for optimum health. They are slaughtered at 24 weeks. They account for about 20% of the veal market.10

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. 2006. Veal from farm to table, www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Veal_from_Farm_to_Table/index.asp (Accessed December 10, 2009).
2 Stull CL and McDonough SP. Multidisciplinary approach to evaluating welfare of veal calves in commercial facilities. Journal of Animal Science 1994;72(9):2518-2524.
3 Costello R. 2006. Merrick's Calf Milk Replacer Guide, www.merricks.com/pdf/milk_replacer_guide.pdf, (Accessed December 10, 2009).
4 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2004. Reminder—Medicated Milk Replacers can Cause Antibiotic Residue in Bob Veal Calves, July 29, www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm048432.htm (Accessed December 10, 2009).
5 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2008. Regulatory Activites[sic]: Warning Letters December 2008-2009, November 24, 2009. FDA Veterinarian Newsletter, XXIII(V), www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/FDAVeterinarianNewsletter/ucm149097.htm (Accessed December 10, 2009).
6 Wilson, L L et al. South Dakota State University, Department of Animal and Range Sciences. Special Fed Veal, http://ars.sdstate.edu/animaliss/veal.html (Accessed December 10, 2009).
7 Lagoda, H. L., et al. Subjective and Objective Evaluation of Veal Lean Color. Journal of Animal Science 2002;80:1911-1916.
8 Wilson, L L et al. South Dakota State University, Department of Animal and Range Sciences. Special Fed Veal, http://ars.sdstate.edu/animaliss/veal.html (Accessed December 10, 2009).
9 Ngapo TM and Gariépy C. Factors affecting the meat quality of veal. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 2006; 86(10):1412-1431.
10 Black, J. 2009. Veal, cast in a kinder light. Washington Post, October 28, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/27/AR2009102700563.html, (Accessed December 10, 2009).