We Have Some Calves Left! Socially Accepted Alternatives to the Current Handling of Male Calves from Dairy Production.

Maureen Schulze*, Sarah Kühl, Gesa Busch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Consumers’ actual knowledge about modern food production is limited, and their judgment is often guided by assumptions or associations that are not necessarily in line with reality. Consumers’ rather unrealistic idea of livestock farming is driven by beautiful and romanticized pictures in advertising. If confronted with the reality of modern livestock farming, consumers’ responses are mainly negative. So far, dairy farming still has a more positive image and thus is less affected by public criticism. However, if made public, some of the current production practices in dairy farming have the potential to reduce consumer acceptance which in turn can have a tremendous effect on farmers. A particularly urgent topic is the handling of male dairy calves. Such calves are often treated as surplus animals due to their low genetic merits for meat, with the risk of resulting in the deprivation of animal welfare. To maintain consumer acceptance of dairy products and find socially accepted alternatives for the handling of male calves, insights into consumer perception of current and future production practices in dairy farming are needed. Thus, the aim of this study is to analyze how consumers evaluate the current situation of male dairy calves and alternatives in male calf management. A quantitative online survey, representative for the German population in terms of gender, age, education, region, and income, was carried out with 1 194 participants in February 2022. Overall, 60% of participants were not aware of the fact that male dairy calves are less appropriate for fattening purposes. Respondents saw a clear need for alternative methods for handling male calves from dairy production. More, our results show that the use of sexed semen encounters consumer resistance, while other alternatives that were evaluated as more natural were more accepted. A cluster analysis identified 3 distinct consumer segments labelled “sexed semen opponents” (31.6%), “undecided” (30.4%), and “proponents of all alternatives” (38.0%) that differed in their acceptance of alternative handling practices of male dairy calves. The results emphasize the gap between consumers’ expectations and reality on farms and the importance of considering consumer preferences when developing future pathways for dairy farming.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalFood Ethics
Volume8
Issue number2
Number of pages14
ISSN2364-6861
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Keywords

  • Calf management
  • Dairy farming
  • Surplus calves
  • Ethical consumption

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