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Anyone who has a calf sucked on his mother and at the same time produces traffic milk is in violation of the Swiss regulation. The demand for such milk is increasing. The legal situation may soon change.
Animal welfare is important for many consumers. It is so important for some that they are actively looking for alternatives to conventional milk production. Claudia Schneider of the FibL research institute for organic agriculture confirms this: "We always have questions from consumers who want to know where they can buy milk from farms where their calves are sucked up by the cows."
Companies are rare
Schneider can not always help, because such companies are rare. She estimates that there are only about three or four dozen dairy farmers in Switzerland who practice mother and parent calf breeding. "And there are far fewer farmers interested in the subject than consumers."
That is no coincidence. On the one hand, this attitude system means a break with tradition. In agriculture, it has been customary for generations to separate the calves from the mothers on the second day of their lives so that they can be milked. Instead, the calves are fed twice daily with cow's milk or milk replacer from Nuckeleimern or automatic diets. They are virtually "breastfed", but receive a "kick" instead. But just as breastfeeding now comes back in the minds of many human children, many consumers of the cow want to leave the calf and still consume milk.
Legal in the gray area
Farmers who practice mother and veal rearing therefore cover a niche. That they rarely hang on the big bell is due to the fear of sanctions. Indeed, current legislation in the food sector does not provide for the calf to be fed to the cow if the milk is also sold as food at the same time.
According to Article 32 of the Regulation on the origin of food (VLTH), milk is the whole milk of one or more animals which are milked regularly. The term "Whole Milk" excludes sucking through the calf.
Influence on fat content
Moreover, according to the regulation on hygiene in milk production (VHYMP) "only flawless milk with unchanged content can be supplied." This regulation can also be attributed to farmers. Because the milk fat content changes when the calf sucks the cow. If the calf is fed to the udder before the cow is milked, the fat content in the milk is higher. If the calf is cared for after milking, the fat content is lower than normal.
From a legal point of view, that would be a reason to complain. In practice, the farmers who suckle their calves are on the verge of legality. "We therefore spent a long time looking for the conversation with the competent authority," says Schneider, "and the first received signals, which change something in this area."
This is confirmed by Nathalie Rochat, spokesperson for the media for the Federal Food and Veterinary Office (BLV). Rochat: "In particular, the point that milk is the whole milk must be removed." When that is the case, however, it is still in the stars. The public consultation on these and many other changes in different food regulations will be launched at the end of the year.
Further changes in the dairy sector are foreseen in the "Total review of the milk hygiene package". "This project aims to reduce the density of regulations, clarify responsibilities and critically question regulations." However, when this project started and what needs to be deregulated, Rochat could not say it.
Suckle yes, but how?
But even if the legal obstacles are removed, it is unlikely that a dairy will come on the market that comes from cows that have a mother-child relationship. For the time being, a clear standard is lacking. There are almost as many different varieties for breeding mother and studbook calves as companies that practice it.
Not every system must match the idealized image of consumers for a healthy family environment in the cow shed. The greatest common denominator is that the calves are not stopped after two days, as usual, but after four to six months. Then they too must leave the udder.
Three different directions
In principle, three different directions can be distinguished, many of which are variants. These are implemented by the owners of the pet, depending on the stable system and equipment, the character of the herd and personal preferences.
• Restrictive sucking with extra milking: in this system the cows and calves are combined twice a day. Usually their own calf only sucks the cow, but it can also suck foreign calves. Whether the calf is allowed to suck before or after milking, is brought to the cow for this occasion or a meeting at the farm, varies from farm to farm.
• Long-term lactation with extra milking: in this system, chicks and calves have contact with each other for several hours per day or even the entire day. The cows are milked once or twice a day. Usually the cow only sucks its own calf, sometimes even other calves suck it. The way cow and calf come together is almost as functionally individual as in the first system.
• Long-term sucking without extra milking: this system works with replacement mothers. In both cases two to four calves are assigned to a nursing cow, which in addition to her own calf also takes care of these other calves. Whether the nurses are milked again after sowing the calves or in the next lactation, the plant manager decides. Some have "full-time" nurses, others have nursing cows, which are normally milked in the next list.
Idealism instead …
The fact that suckling the calf on the cow is more natural than drinking with the nugget bucket is undisputed. What that means for milk yield, milk quality, profitability and animal health is less clear. There are studies that show that the total milk yield does not decrease, including the consumption of calves. But there are also comments from farmers who say that the calf is more thirsty.
There is scientific research that cows tend to have better udder health when they are sucked by calves. Other studies indicate that isolated Pasteurella and Mycoplasma bovis mastitis occur, which are likely to be transmitted through the mouth of the calf. While almost all farmers who have had their calves suckled are convinced that the calves are healthier, a study by the Thünen Institute concludes that good health can also be achieved without a mother-child relationship.
Many managers assess the loss of calving work as a labor saving and consequently as a profit. Whether it really is one is unclear, because concrete profit calculation calculations are missing.
Nobody knows exactly and how much more expensive milk should be from mother and studbook calves. The few companies that rely on these systems in Switzerland do not do it for economic reasons anyway, but from the conviction that this form of calf rearing is more natural. And that is exactly what many consumers want today.
Early separation is easier
Cows only give milk continuously when they receive a calf every year. Although the modern cows produce much more milk than the calf that is needed, so really enough for calf and man to be present. But if you have the calf sucked, the cow often gives the rest of the milk reluctantly. The mother-child relationship also leads to more stress for the mother and the calf, which can clearly be seen in the cow and the calf with their loud laughter. That is why the weaning has prevailed the last day in the practice of dairy farms.