What happens to male calves in the dairy industry

Author: Ayrton Cooper

Read Time:   |  2nd July 2021

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Ayrton Cooper, Senior Campaigner for Animal Justice Project, investigates the UK calf trade industry to reveal what happens to male dairy calves.


One of the most well-known, yet haunting, facts about the dairy industry that vegans share, is that male calves are considered a ‘by-product’ and often killed within hours/days of birth.

Latest industry averages show that 60,000 male calves were killed on dairy farms in just one year. Animal Justice Project revealed for the first time that in 2020, a staggering 65,000 male dairy calves, who were less than one month old, were killed inside slaughterhouses.

A further 3,446 calves were exported overseas through Ramsgate in 2019 but none since; a ban on exporting calves may come into place soon. With well over one million calves born on dairy farms each year in the UK, what really happens to male dairy calves, and is there a ‘kinder option’?

Male dairy calves lives are deemed worthless

Around half of the calves born are female and a large proportion of these will remain within the dairy industry.

Often singly kept in calf hutches in their first weeks of life, they are reared to replace their ‘spent’ mothers who will be sent to slaughter once their milk production decreases.

They will enter the same cycle of exploitation; repeated pregnancies and milking, until their bodies can no longer take it.

Any excess female calves may be sold in auctions and at markets, sent directly to slaughter, used for breeding or fattened up. But the males are relatively worthless to dairy farmers.

Traditionally, it can cost more to raise a male calf than what the farmer will gain in return by sending them to slaughter.

UK calf trade

This is where calf traders come in. Large animal traders trade in tens of thousands of calves each year.

They source thousands of them from dairy farms and utilising their own collection centres, distribute them throughout rearing units and finally to fattening beef farms.


This is mass exploitation of babies. Millions of pounds are made every year from buying and selling distressed calves, taken from grieving mothers.

This is often seen as a ‘kinder option’ for male calves as they are not killed at birth. Instead, they enter a short life of exploitation that may include abuse from workers, horrific conditions and a brutal death.

The beef and dairy industries are intertwined

With large numbers of calves traded through the dairy and beef industries, it has created widespread integration of the two.

They are heavily reliant on each other and are becoming one. By buying dairy products, you’re fuelling the beef industry and by eating beef products, you’re likely to be funding the dairy industry.

50-60% of the British beef herd consists of individuals originating in the dairy industry. Over one million calves each year are sold into the beef industry from dairy farms or by calf traders.

Over one million calves each year are sold into the beef industry from dairy farms

Over one million calves each year are sold into the beef industry from dairy farms


These trading companies are key to integration as well as dairy companies. Everyday beef products that people consume have direct links to the separation of mothers and calves on dairy farms.

Animal Justice Project’s EXPIRED campaign has highlighted the mass exploitation of calves in the UK and the major links between the dairy and beef industries.

Fattening farms

Huge rearing and fattening farms operate on a mass scale. Both raise up to 4,500 individuals each year.

‘Mega farms’ hold thousands of animals at a time and are on the rise in the UK – nearly 800 were counted in 2017. It is the industrialisation of rearing calves that has enabled them to become profitable.

Once weaned, they are often fed high concentrate feeds and occasionally enter a zero-grazing system, unable to naturally graze, living in concrete pens.

This feed fattens them at a faster rate than on traditional beef farms and individuals are slaughtered from just 12 months old.

By rearing and fattening in such a large scale, costs per individual are minimised, with profits maximised, all at the expense of the calves.

They are unable to carry out basic, innate behaviours, such as grazing or even walking outdoors.

All for a cheap beef burger and a glass of milk.

Male calves are often fed high concentrate feeds and are not allowed to graze outdoors if palced under a zero-grazing system

Male calves are often fed high concentrate feeds and are not allowed to graze outdoors if palced under a zero-grazing system

Animal abuse on dairy farms

Our investigation looked at two farms. At both sites, abuse was common.

Calves were hit with sticks, kicked, punched and one had a bucket thrown in its face, causing it to collapse on the concrete ground.

Gates and bars were slammed on their legs and backs. The conditions were abhorrent – the ‘hospital pen’ was shockingly bad.

No fresh bedding, mounds of faeces and slurry build-ups. Lameness caused many cows to suffer and they were left with no apparent medical intervention for months. 23 DEFRA and Red Tractor standards were broken during filming.

These farms are not unique. With each investigation, the reality for farmed animals becomes clear. Farms, welfare labels, supermarkets and the UK Government fail animals.

There is no ‘kinder option’ for these male dairy calves. We must push for an end to these abusive industries and promote a plant-based food system.

We must urge others to adopt veganism to prevent individuals ending up on these farms.

Animals deserve better and we can make this a reality by choosing the true ‘kinder option’: veganism.

Now you know the truth of what happens to male dairy calves, find out why free-range eggs aren’t ethical

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