Unwanted calves’ plight needs highlighting in dairy industry

By Lynley Tulloch

Earlier this month Starfish Bobby Calf Project picked up its first calf for the season from a Waikato jersey breeder. He is a gorgeous doe-eyed little boy we have named Diego.

As we understand it, Diego was born small and would not be sold as a stud bull. We were happy to give him a second chance at life as a pet.

Starfish Bobby Calf Project is an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the issue of bobby calves in the dairy industry. But that does not preclude us taking on other calves that would not necessarily go on the bobby truck. Diego was one such calf.

To raise awareness of animals within dairying, we are making a documentary on the calves. The focus is on them – their lives and experiences and journey over time. We aim to encourage people to empathise with the animals.

We arrived on the farm with a camera, the sole purpose of which was to document the calf as he was picked up. The camera was not aimed at the farmers at any time, and we had no intention to use the footage to identify the farm or the farmers concerned.

The documentary on Starfish is about the animals, not the people. The people involved – farmers, stock truck drivers, sharemilkers – do provide a good background context for the documentary, however, and we would welcome anyone in this capacity who would like to speak about dairying in New Zealand.

An important element of any democracy, which New Zealand claims to be, is the provision of spaces for public debate and social action. The concerns of animal rights activists about dairying are valid and it is important they are not silenced by powerful groups such as Federated Farmers or Fonterra.

After the bobby calf expose last year, farmers are worried footage of their farms may be used out of context to vilify them. I get it. So I am here to set the record straight and to reassure farmers this is not our motive.

Federated Farmers took a valid farmer concern about our presence on his farm and turned it into a smear campaign. It was hurtful for not only myself, but also the farmer concerned. We have been in touch with him and he is happy with our care of Diego and has offered to re-home more calves with us if we would like them.

We would welcome hearing from any farmers would like to speak about their practice and offer a viewpoint for our documentary. We are not anti-farmer at all. We are a small group focused on the plight of calves who become surplus to dairy industry requirements. We focus on the system and not the individuals.

As for Diego, he has three new mates now and is doing  well. He himself might not have been a bobby, but thousands just like him are.

He is happy, healthy, fluffy and just so full of character. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. He is a mascot for the two million-plus bobby calves who will be killed this year.

  • Lynley Tulloch is the founder of the Starfish Bobby Calf Project.
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