A recent survey reveals that 70 percent of veal calves raised by members of the American Veal Association (AVA) will be housed in group pens by the end of 2012, according to a press release from the group.  Five years ago the AVA board of directors voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling for all U.S. veal farms to transition to group pens.

The resolution, adopted by the AVA on May 9, 2007, took a leadership position on farm animal housing by calling for the veal community to transition all veal farms to group housing by Dec. 31, 2017.  

Veal farmers have traditionally housed calves in individual pens in order to ensure the individual requirements of food, water and comfort were all met.  In 2007, the AVA recognized that ongoing research, field results and new technology offer veal farmers new tools that would allow them to provide excellent and individual care in groups.  Veal farmers continue to refine and perfect group housing options.

“As farmers, we have an obligation to provide for the well-being of the animals in our care,” said Jurian Bartelse, a New York veal farmer and AVA president.  “In 2005 we built state-of-the-art group houses at our farm and have been pleased with our ability to continue to provide excellent care and produce the high-quality veal our customers expect.”

Chris Landwehr, a veal farmer from DePere, Wis., is one of a growing number of producers who have already converted to the group housing system.  He estimates that it costs $30,000 to switch an average-size barn from individual to group housing, but thinks it is something every veal producer should pursue. “I grew up on a veal farm and have always understood that individual stalls meant individual care so I was skeptical in the beginning,” Landwehr said.  “ I view the group housing method as a win-win for everyone.  Customers are more comfortable with this approach and I can still provide the same level of care I provided with the traditional method.”

Typical veal farms in the United States. are small, family operations with 200 to 250 animals and generally located in states with significant dairy production. Veal farmers raise the male Holstein calves born on dairy farms and utilize the milk-by products produced at dairy farms. The AVA estimates that U.S. veal farmers will spend $250 million over ten years on new technology to retrofit or build new barns to accommodate group-housing methods. 

The American Veal Association represents farmers, processors and feed companies involved in the $1.5 billion U.S. veal industry.