With one-third of the veal on the market today raised in group housing, The American Veal Association (AVA) says producers are ahead of schedule as the work to transition all veal farms to group housing by 2017.

“Veal farmers’ primary concern is the well-being of the animals in their care. They also strive to meet their customers’ needs and concerns,” says Dr. Drew Vermeire, a calf nutritionist and chairman of the industry committee which oversees U.S. veal care and quality farming standards. “Veal farmers are now embracing research proven, science-based animal husbandry guidelines on how to provide high quality individual care to calves raised in group pen facilities.” 

A survey of the veal industry, conducted in April 2009, found that 34.8 percent of the veal calves currently going to market are raised in group housing.

“Veal farmers are much further ahead than we anticipated at this point,” says Vermeire. “Initially, we expected to have 20 percent of all veal calves raised in group housing by mid-2009.  Some farmers adopted group housing early and moved to this system entirely while others are phasing in as they experience good results.  The goal is to always ensure excellent individual care to calves raised in groups while producing wholesome and tender quality meat that veal consumers expect and enjoy.”

In May 2007, the AVA’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling for all U.S. veal farms to transition to group housing systems by December 31, 2017. The Board also encouraged more research to aid farmers in the transition. 

“Veal farmers recognize there are some challenges that still need to be addressed within group housing,” notes Vermeire. “Calves in groups exhibit ’bully’ behaviors toward other calves, which we expect from young bulls. In addition, there is generally less uniformity among calves raised in group housing. We know the foodservice market depends on consistency so we are still working out these issues.”

Research continues among industry scientists and at universities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe to help manage calf group behavior, nutritional needs, and to refine various group housing systems to improve calf well-being.    

“The veal industry continues to look to the future for ways to meet its housing commitment.  At this time, we are pleased that veal farmers have been able to move swiftly in this direction without negatively impacting the well being of their animals, while producing the lean, nutritious and succulent veal product that consumers demand,” notes Vermeire.