Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Cattle

1. Introduction

The aims of this code are:

  • to promote humane and considerate treatment of cattle, and the use of good husbandry practices to ensure the welfare of cattle in all types of cattle farming enterprises
  • to inform all people responsible for the care and management of cattle about their responsibilities
  • to set an industry standard by defining minimum acceptable cattle management practices.

'Cattle' includes all domestic bovines eg. cows, bulls, steers, heifers and calves. 'Calves' are under 6 months of age.

This Code should be read in conjunction with the Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Farm Animals during Transportation. Assistance with specific management or disease control problems is available from State Departments of Agriculture, veterinarians in practice and consultants.

Feedlot definition

A cattle feedlot is a confined yard area with watering and feeding facilities where cattle are completely hand or mechanically fed for the purpose of production.

This definition does not include the feeding or penning of cattle in this way for weaning, dipping or to other husbandry purposes or for drought or other emergency feeding, or at a slaughterhouse place or in recognised saleyards.

The section of this Code outlining standards which apply to Beef Cattle Feedlots endorses the concept of an Animal Care Statement.

An Animal Care Statement relates to the management of individual feedlots. It is produced by the feedlot management and it documents the practices, facilities, equipment and personnel in place at the feedlot to ensure compliance with required standards of cattle welfare.

1.1 Cattle are kept in situations which vary from extensive grazing to close confinement and housing. Whatever the form of husbandry, owners and managers have a legal moral responsibility to care for the welfare of animals under their control.

1.2 The basic needs of cattle for adequate food, water, air, shelter, comfort and freedom to move and express normal behaviour patterns must be met, irrespective of the nature of husbandry or farming system.

1.3 The people managing and handling cattle must be sensitive to the basic needs of cattle. The skills for managing and handling cattle include the ability to:

  • work so that stress to cattle is minimised
  • use the natural behaviour of cattle
  • recognise the early signs of distress or disease and to initiate prompt and appropriate preventive or remedial action. Good stockpersons are flexible in their approach to cattle management and handling and adapt to the needs of differing cattle and circumstances.

1.4 The basic needs for the welfare of cattle are:

  • Adequate quantity and quality of water, food and air to maintain good health.
  • Social contact with other cattle. Cattle adapt to the familiar surroundings in which they live, including other cattle. Where possible cattle should not be subjected to undue stress caused by separation from familiar cattle and mixing or crowding with unfamiliar stock. Individual cattle, such as house cows, may adapt to solitude, provided other welfare requirements are met.
  • Sufficient space to stand, lie down, stretch and groom, and to perform normal patterns of behaviour.
  • Protection from predation.
  • Protection from disease or injury, and appropriate treatment if they occur.
  • Protection from adverse extremes of climate or unseasonal changes in weather conditions, where possible.
  • Precautions against the effects of natural disasters (eg. storage of feed to protect against drought, provision of fire-breaks).
  • Protection from unnecessary, unreasonable or unjustifiable pain, suffering or injury.

2. Water

2.1 Cattle must have access to an adequate supply of suitable drinking water.

2.2 Cattle should not be deprived of access to water for periods longer than 24 hours in transit, in which case the Code of Practice for Transport of Farm Animals applies.

2.3 Water requirements depend on age, body weight, production level, air temperature, humidity, dry matter intake, and dry matter content of the feed eaten.

Guides to the quantity of water

Cattle type

Quantity of Water (Litres) per day

Maximum Total Soluble Salts (p.p.n.)

Maximum Magnesium Salts (p.p.n)













2.4 Cattle used to drinking salty water may need special consideration. If they refuse fresh water, they may need a gradual change from salty to fresh water.

2.5 Where water medications are to be used, cattle should be observed to ensure they do not refuse to drink the medicated water.

2.6 It is preferable that where practical water be provided in troughs rather than dams to avoid the risk of cattle becoming bogged.

3. Food

3.1 Cattle should have access to or be provided with food of adequate quality to maintain their well-being. Ideally they should not be deprived of access to food for periods not longer than 36 hours. But, however it is accepted under the Lightweight Selling Code of Practice this may be extended for up to a period of not longer than 48 hours (refer also to Code of Practice for Abattoirs and Slaughterhouses). In particular cattle in late pregnancy or early lactation are most at risk of metabolic disease if deprived of access to food for periods approaching 24 hours.

3.2 Food available should take into account the nutritional requirements of maintenance, growth, pregnancy and lactation and provide for any extra demands such as exercise or cold stress. Any changes to alternative feed should be made gradually.

3.3 In times of seasonal feed shortages arrangements should be made to ensure that the quantity and quality of feed is sufficient to maintain good health and adequate body condition.

It is unacceptable for animals to be allowed to starve to death or to reach the stage of requiring destruction because of weakness caused by food or water deprivation.

4. Drought

4.1 Drought may be defined as a severe shortage of food and/or water, usually the result of prolonged periods of low rainfall. It is not a seasonal decline in the quantity and quality of food available.

4.2 Where minimal water and food requirements cannot be met, cattle should be moved or agisted to a place where feed and water is adequate, or they should be sold or humanely slaughtered.

4.3 Cattle being fed for survival should be inspected at least twice a week. Where possible they should be grouped appropriately, by sex, age and size to reduce competition. Shy feeders require special attention and treatment depending on type of food, method of feeding and strength of competing cattle.

4.4 During drought periods advice may be obtained from the department.

5. Protection from climatic extremes and predation

5.1 As far as practical cattle should be protected from adverse weather conditions including climatic extremes, unseasonal changes and other factors causing cold stress or heat stress.

5.2 Where stress caused by prolonged cold, wet and windy conditions is likely, additional fodder should be provided. Younger calves and cattle in poor condition are particularly at risk from cold stress.

5.3 Forward planning should be undertaken to ensure protection from the effects of natural disasters. In areas subject to flooding care is necessary in paddock and facility design to allow access to some safe high ground, or to plan for stock evacuation to high ground. Adequate fire breaks should be maintained. Cattle must be attended after a natural disaster such as bushfire or flood.

Animals should be assessed by a competent person. Immediate treatment or humane destruction may be required depending on the animal's condition.

5.4 All reasonable steps should be taken to protect stock from predators.

6. Beef cattle feedlots

6.1 Introduction

  • Feedlotting of beef cattle is a legitimate husbandry tool in certain circumstances but as with all intensive animal husbandry systems, management standards need to be exact, otherwise the health and welfare of many animals can be affected.
  • The establishment and continued operation of feedlots must adhere to Victorian and Local Government health and environmental legislative and licensing requirements.
  • All feedlot facilities are required to be properly constructed and maintained to high standards. Reference should be made to the document 'National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia' published by CSIRO Publications.

6.2 Definition and environmental issues

  • A beef feedlot is a confined yard area with watering and feeding facilities where cattle are completely hand or mechanically fed for the purpose of production. This definition does not include the feeding or penning of cattle in this way for weaning, dipping or similar husbandry purposes or for drought or other emergency feeding, or at a slaughtering place or in recognised saleyards.
  • The location, design and construction of a feedlot and/or a feed pad should take account of topography, climate, age and size of animals to be fed, space and feed requirements, and labour and management skills available. Adequate provision should be made for cleansing, drainage and waste disposal. Areas should be of a soil type which does not bog in wet weather, and be adequately graded and drained to provide proper water run-off and a firm and dry footing under normal feeding conditions. Effluent disposal should be arranged and monitored to ensure environmental safety. These issues are covered further in the National Feedlot Guidelines.
  • The first and most important consideration for any feedlot manager is the well-being of all cattle under their control whether on the feedlot or in transit. A feeding exercise should not be attempted unless the operator has the resources to comply with the National Feedlot Guidelines and with the National Feedlot Code and the relevant State welfare code. Initial design, facility maintenance, cattle acquisition, health management and feeding control must all be coordinated and organised around cattle welfare requirements.

6.3 General livestock management issues

  • This code should be read in conjunction with the National Feedlot Guidelines, State requirements and the Animal Care Statement in place at the individual feedlot.
  • Responsibility for the various main areas covered in this code will be assigned in the Animal Care Statement for the individual feedlot.
  • Each feedlot should, in consultation with an experienced veterinarian with specialist skills in feedlot medicine, and in accordance with State laws, develop and operate its own specific health management program which will provide for the particular needs of the feeding programs proposed for the site. The program will include policy on arrival procedures, drug use, feeding, general handling and record keeping. These issues will also be covered in the Animal Care Statement.
  • Livestock personnel should be thoroughly familiar with the management program and trained accordingly. Feedlots are to maintain sufficient numbers of trained and experienced staff to cater adequately for all provisions of the established health management program on a 7 day a week basis.
  • The transportation of cattle to and from the feedlot should be carried out in accordance with established State code or the National Code of Practice for the Land Transport of Cattle. Special attention should be paid to recommendations relating to the standard of transport equipment, loading densities and rest stops for long distances.
  • Cattle should always be handled quietly and, to the extent possible, in the cool of the day, especially during shipment. However, in cooler climates procedures for shipment should address the effect of cold stress. With new arrivals, it is often better to rest cattle overnight with access to palatable hay and water before processing the next day, The rate at which cattle are delivered to the feedlot should never exceed the capability of handling facilities or staff. When handling cattle, avoid the use of excessive noise, whips, canes. Laneways, races, entrances and exits should be designed to take advantage of the social behaviour and movement patterns of cattle.
  • Newly arrived cattle should be closely inspected for signs of illness or injury and treated as required. Access to quality hay and clean water should be provided on entry and, to the extent possible, arrival groups should be kept separately until processing is complete.
  • Dehorning, particularly with mature cattle, is not recommended. Tipping, the removal of the sharp point of the horn (4 to 5cm), where minimal bleeding, may occur, is acceptable. Provision should be made for homed cattle in the allowance for feed trough space and transportation density.
  • When cattle are being loaded onto trucks, great care must be taken to handle them as quietly as possible. They should be left on feed until loading commences.

6.4 Health inspection

  • Responsibilities for health inspection activities will be covered in the individual feedlot Animal Care Statement.
  • All cattle should be closely inspected on arrival to assess health status and treated as required.
  • Entry processing treatments should be designed as far as possible to treat and prevent disease and parasite conditions which are known to occur in the area or particular cattle group. If the background of a group of feeder cattle is not known, cattle should be treated on arrival assuming the worst about transport stress and disease exposure.
  • Once cattle are penned out all animals should be checked daily and, in the case of new arrivals, unweaned calves in particular, twice daily inspections are advised for the first few weeks of environmental adjustment and feed adaptation.
  • Trained and experienced stock handlers must ride or walk all pens looking for any signs of poor health or injury using an established surveillance method. All cattle-should be seen standing and moving.
  • Surveillance should include water trough inspections and general features of the fencing and pen surface which may predispose cattle to injury.
  • Sick cattle are to be removed promptly to the hospital area for closer attention by health staff or the consulting veterinarian, who should have specialist skills in feedlot medicine.
  • Signs of feeding disorders should be reported immediately to the feeding supervisor and the feedlot manager.

6.5 Health management

  • The emphasis of the health management program from the time cattle first arrive will be constant surveillance, particularly in the first 3 or 4 weeks after introduction, early detection of health problems and prompt appropriate treatment.
  • Sick or injured cattle are to be removed immediately from the feeding group and placed in appropriate sick bay facilities for treatment in accordance with the established protocol prepared by the consulting vet. The treatment area should be away from, but adjacent to the main feedlot facility. Stressed cattle must be allowed to recover on a high fibre diet, either hay or natural pasture, or be sold or destroyed. When prognosis for recovery is poor, immediate salvage should be undertaken or, where this is not possible, humane destruction must be affected immediately. Where doubt exists a vet's advice should be sought and followed.
  • Adequate records should be kept to monitor the incidence of disease and response to treatment. The Animal Care Statement for the individual feedlot will also refer to this issue. A record of mortality should also be maintained including necropsy reports to be used as a basis for refinement of health management programs, feed management and the system of cattle purchasing and processing. Wherever practical, records should also detail the origin of feeder cattle.
  • If an illness or death is encountered without the cause being known or reasonably anticipated, it is the responsibility of management to carry out an appropriate investigation and, in the case of notifiable diseases, act in accordance with State regulations.
  • Special facilities must be provided for the handling and proper care of cattle calving in the feedlot. Facilities should be appropriate for both cows and calves while either are held in confinement.

6.6 Feeding management

  • Responsibilities for nutrition will be covered in the Animal Care Statement for the feedlot.
  • All diets formulated for use in cattle feedlots are to be nutritionally balanced and designed to provide sufficient nutrients and palatability for the production, maintenance and health of cattle and. to ensure that digestive upsets are minimised.
  • All cattle, excluding those fed by self feeders, must be fed with the feed being added to the troughs at least once daily and preferably twice to maintain feed freshness. Stale or spoiled feed must be removed from troughs. In wet weather more frequent feeding may have to be carried out to prevent spoilage. Feed troughs should not be allowed to be empty for more than 2 to 3 hours per day, if at all.
  • The use of any ingredient must be limited to acknowledged nutritionally safe levels in the ration. When grain is used in the diet it should be gradually introduced to avoid digestive problems. The first feeding should always be done early in the morning as this is when cattle start loading for food.
  • Ration changes must be made in gradual, safe steps to guard against digestive disorders. All cattle should be closely observed during a ration change and changes should not be made concurrently with other environmental changes such as weather or cattle movement.
  • Water must be clean, fresh and readily available with troughs cleaned regularly.
  • The feed consumption of all pens of cattle should be monitored each day as any variation in consumption is an indication of their well-being.
  • When using feed ingredients which carry a risk of disease outbreak due to infections, toxins or nutritional profile, safeguards must be put in place to ensure that the processing of such ingredients is carried out correctly and consistently. Poultry litter must be treated and stored properly and should not contain any parts of dead birds.

6.7 General yard management including space requirements

  • Feedlot measurements will vary widely according to the type, age, sex and weight of cattle, ration composition, soil type, climate and season prevailing at each feedlot and for each cattle group.
  • The handling yards are to provide for efficient, quiet handling of cattle with non-slippery surfaces, and no projections into the yards or races which may bruise or injure cattle. There must be adequate holding yards with water available within the handling area. Handling is best done in the cool of the day.
  • Cattle pens should be maintained such that they are well drained, provide a firm footing (not concrete) and have sufficient area for cattle to move around freely. Pen management should ensure that the pen surface dries as quickly as possible after rainfall.
  • The stocking density of pens or yards must take into account age, size, behavioural needs, movement and feeding patterns of cattle. In any event, an absolute minimum space requirement of 9m2 per head must be provided. In the case of shedded animals an absolute minimum of 2.5m2 must be provided for each animal.
  • Fences and troughs must be maintained in good order.
  • The fences should be made from materials which cannot injure animals, and allow plenty of fresh air circulation.
  • Water troughs should be large enough and designed in such a way that the cattle have easy access. Feed troughs should be designed with the same basic parameters in mind allowing sufficient space for all cattle to eat without competition. Actual space needed will vary with rations, cattle size and feeding frequency. A minimum space of 150mm per head is recommended for young cattle and 180mm per head for steers and bullocks.
  • A very important consideration is removal of manure from cattle pens and handling areas and maintenance of the pen surface. The National Feedlot Guidelines cover these issues. The frequency of cleaning must be such that cattle have sufficient area free of wet manure build-up for resting. Manure should not be allowed to accumulate to the point where reasonable surface drying is delayed after rainfall.
  • Pressure areas close to feed and water troughs, fence lines and drainage lines are to be maintained so that excessive manure accumulation is avoided.
  • In some feedlots mounds can be used effectively to provide dry resting areas. If a section of the pen area is used for the stockpiling of manure, stocking density should be adjusted accordingly.
  • Dry surface manure should be removed in accordance with the environmental guidelines to minimise dust in periods of still atmospheric conditions. Dust can be controlled by increased frequency of removal, and moisture application by way of increased stocking pressure or water sprays.

6.8 Protection from climatic extremes

  • Cattle should be protected from extreme adverse weather conditions causing cold stress or heat stress. This is also important where cattle are moved from one climatic zone to a feedlot situation in a significantly different zone.
  • Feedlot management and staff must be aware of the climatic conditions and the clinical signs in cattle that are associated with heat stress. At the first indication of such climatic conditions and clinical signs remedial action as stated in the individual feedlot's Animal care Statement should be implemented. In relation to heat stress, the provision of shade or alternative means of cooling such as misters and sprays may be required, and should particularly be considered in areas where the duration of high temperature and high humidity with decreased air movement is prolonged. In these conditions cattle should be constantly monitored for signs of restlessness, decreased food intake, congregating around water troughs and huddling, and cessation of rumination which would indicate thermal load stress requiring immediate preventative action.
  • Where cold stress predominates, shelter (windbreaks, mounding) and allowance for additional nutrient requirements should be considered.

7. The welfare of bobby calves

7.1 Introduction

In this section a bobby calf is defined as a calf not accompanied by its dam and under the age of 4 weeks.

  • The basis of good commercial management of bobby calves for veal is the proper care and attention to the health and welfare of the calves.
  • Due to their size and age, bobby calves are particularly sensitive to conditions of husbandry and transport. Consideration should always be given when Bobby Calves are sold, to ensure the shortest practical time from sale to slaughter.
  • People in possession of, and handling, bobby calves have a responsibility to care for the welfare of bobby calves under their control and this care should be separate from the interests of economic production.
  • The sale of bobby calves to private organisations for fund raising purposes should be discouraged unless competent stockmanship can be demonstrated.
  • Transporters should ensure that animals reach their destination as speedily as possible, within the confines of the road law, and in a condition not significantly less than the condition they were in when they were assembled for loading. The possibility of either injury or illness to the animals during transport should be reduced to a minimum. Good management and skilled driving are important to the welfare of animals carried by road or other transport.

7.2 Selection and handling

  • It is desirable to present bobby calves for sale that are bright, alert, strong, vigorous, able to stand on their own, capable of being transported and at least 4 days old. Bobby calves should have been fed on the farm within 6 hours before delivery to a sale or pick-up point.
  • The minimum recommended liveweight for bobby calves being sold is 23kg at the point of sale, obviously immature, dopey and listless calves should not be presented for sale.
  • Sick or injured calves are to be given appropriate treatment or be humanely destroyed. They are not to be presented for sale or transport or slaughter.
  • Handling of calves should be carried out in a manner which will avoid injury or unnecessary suffering. Calves are not to be kicked, beaten, pulled, thrown or 'dumped' or prodded with any sharp instrument. The use of electrical goading devices or dogs when handling, driving, drafting, weighing, loading or unloading is not an acceptable practice.
  • Calves treated with veterinary drugs and/or agricultural chemicals shall be withheld from slaughter according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Bobby calves intended for slaughter should be fed milk or milk replacer, not milk from cows treated for mastitis or other ailments. Bobby calves that require treatment for diarrhoea should in general be treated with electrolytes in preference to antibacterials.
  • The umbilical cord at the junction with the skin shall be dry and shrivelled. Cords which are fresh, wet, raw, pink or 'green' indicate excessively young calves which should not be presented for sale or transport. Bobby calves which have had their cords removed and treated should be individually inspected by the person responsible for the calves for evidence of dryness. Drying of the umbilical cord by artificial means must not be done. Particular care needs to be taken with the welfare of calves which are born premature.

7.3 Holding facilities

These include on-farm holding facilities, public calf sale areas, pick-up facilities (including mobile operations) calf scales and abattoirs.

  • Facilities should be constructed to permit the safe loading and unloading of calves.
  • Holding pens should be constructed to provide floor surfaces that are dry, sanitary, non-slip and capable of being cleaned; holding pens need to provide shelter from wind and rain at all times.
  • The handling of calves at calf-scales and calf pick-up points should be conducted humanely and efficiently.
  • The operation of calf-scales and pick-up points and the transport of calves to saleyards or direct to an abattoir should be coordinated to permit slaughter of bobby calves within 30 hours of leaving the farm.
  • Places where bobby calves are held (public sales, pick-up facilities, scales and abattoirs) should have facilities and contingency plans to feed calves in the event of delayed removal or slaughter.
  • Bobby calves which are not collected from the pick-up points by 8am (0800 hrs) on the day following the day of offering, should be fed by the person in possession or custody of the calves at that time. Thereafter be fed at least once a day.
  • In any event, calves should be fed at least once every 24 hours. Fresh or stored whole milk or reconstituted milk replacer will provide all the essential nutrients; milk replacers should be reconstituted according to manufacturers' instructions.
  • Milk and milk replacer should not be fed in excess of body temperature (39°C).
  • To minimise the transmission of disease and to have feeding utensils in hygienic condition it may be necessary to clean the utensils for calves between feeds.
  • Calves should have access to suitable drinking water.
  • Bobby calves treated for ailment subsequent to leaving the farm, with drugs or other chemicals requiring a withholding period, must not be forwarded for slaughter within the prescribed withholding period.

7.4 Transportation

  • All bobby calves should be fed on the farm within 6 hours of transportation for sale.
  • The driver of the vehicle is responsible for the care and welfare of all animals during transport except when either an attendant appointed by the owner or an agent of the owner travels with the consignment.
  • Owners or owners' representatives should not present for transport animals which are either ill, in a weakened state, or injured; the driver of a transport vehicle should not permit the loading of such animals.
  • Exceptions to the above recommendation are animals that are either ill, in a weakened state, or injured and requiring transport either to or from a place for veterinary treatment.
  • Animals that either become ill, become weak, or are injured during transport should receive appropriate attention and treatment; if necessary they should be slaughtered humanely.
  • Whenever possible bobby calves should be transported directly, by the shortest route possible from the point of sale to the abattoir.
  • The time interval from farm to abattoir should ensure slaughter at an abattoir by the next day.
  • Vehicles used for the transportation of bobby calves should be thoroughly cleaned prior to loading and at the end of every journey.
  • Transport operators should check calves en route at least once every three hours.
  • Calves shall be transported in transports with enclosed fronts.
  • Bobby calves should be loaded at a density so as to allow all calves to lie down while being transported.
  • Bobby calves shall be transported in separate compartments from other classes of stock.

7.5 Specific responsibilities at abattoirs

The general recommendations already outlined apply to all situations, including abattoirs. Because of the special circumstances existing at abattoirs the following additional specific responsibilities are incumbent on abattoir management, overseen by meat inspection staff.

Unloading trucks. Animals that arrive either ill, in a weakened state, or injured should be isolated and receive appropriate attention and treatment as soon as possible. If moribund or seriously injured, they should be destroyed immediately.

Calf kill. Bobby calves are to be slaughtered on the day of delivery to the abattoir, or within 18 hours of delivery. The first kill of the day is to include calves present at the abattoir. The kill should be in order of arrival.

Carry-over and delayed kill (overnight). Where the slaughter of calves is delayed overnight or where calves are carried-over until the next day's kill, the calves:

  • must be fed as soon as practicable after the delay is known
  • are to be inspected at maximum 12 hourly intervals
  • must be killed first at the next kill.

Industrial disputation. In the event of an industrial dispute, leading to withdrawal of labour, notice of the dispute should be presented to management two working days before labour is withdrawn with a view to ensuring that all bobby calves on hand and those being transported to the abattoirs are slaughtered within the required thirty hours.

Extended delayed kill (in excess of 24 hours or length of delay unknown). Where there is an extended (or unknown) delay in the slaughter of calves abattoir management shall:

  • inform all buyers to stop sending calves to that abattoir
  • redirect any calves in transit to alternative abattoirs;
  • inspect all calves at a maximum of 12 hourly intervals
  • find alternative kill sites for calves on site and calves arriving, and/or start kill as soon as possible after it is clear that an extended delay is to occur
  • observe the recommendations on feeding requirements, methods and intervals as detailed in this document under 'Holding Facilities'.

Feeding and shelter. Abattoirs must have on hand sufficient feeding equipment and feed (milk replacer) to feed at least 20% of the largest possible kill days. Abattoirs must have ready access to feeding equipment and feed (milk replacer) for the largest number of calves likely to be onsite at any one time for each of the 2 following days. Abattoirs must have sufficient pens with appropriate shelter for the largest kill expected, and access to material (straw, rice hulls) for bedding in the event of an extended delay kill.

8. Artificial rearing of calves for dairy replacements or beef and veal production

8.1 Housing for artificially reared calves should be hygienic, with adequate ventilation, climate control and lighting. Flooring should be well drained with adequate dry lying space for each calf. Flooring and internal surfaces should not cause injury and should allow easy cleaning.

8.2 Careful attention to group sizes, access to feed, bedding, milking shed location, ancillary accommodation, lighting, air inlets and outlets, handling facilities and stalls can alleviate problems of health, stress or aggression.

8.3 Calves are social animals and seek company of other calves. Individual penning of calves during early rearing (2 to 3 weeks of age) may be preferable for disease prevention and management and developing a liquid feeding regime. Where individual penning of calves exceeds 3 weeks, careful consideration should be given to the social needs of these animals.

8.4 Calves should receive at least two litres of fresh or preserved colostrum or an approved substitute within the first 12 hours following birth. Calves should continue to receive colostrum for the first 3 days after birth. Thereafter, they should be fed at least daily on liquid milk, commercial milk-replacer or colostrum, in sufficient quantities to provide essential requirements for maintenance and growth. High quality pasture, hay, pellets or straw should be available to calves from no later than 3 weeks of age to help in development of their digestive tracts and to ease the stress of weaning. Hygienic calf feeding practices, including thorough daily cleansing of all equipment (feeding units, lines, bottles, nipples, troughs) may be required to protect calf health and welfare and to prevent diarrhoea.

8.5 Milk-replacers based on skim milk should not be fed to calves under three weeks of age, unless they are in a properly balanced formulated mixture of protein, fat and vitamins. Milk replacers should be reconstituted according to manufacturers instructions. Milk and milk-replacers should not be fed in excess of body temperature (39°C).

8.6 Calves should be weaned off milk, milk replacer or colostrum onto rations providing all essential requirements, only when their ruminant digestive systems have developed sufficiently to enable them to maintain growth and well-being. Weaning off milk or milk replacer may be an opportune time to introduce calves into group housing. The process of weaning can occur as early as three weeks of age.

8.7 Restricted rations of the 'white veal' type (iron deprived diets lower than 20ppm iron) which cause anaemia, are unacceptable.

8.8 Calf rearing systems in which calves are individually and continually housed in pens or cribs the available floor area for each calf must take into account the normal behaviour of calves.

The floor area must be sufficient to enable each calf to freely turn around, stretch out and lie down comfortably. A floor area of at least 1.5 sq metres should be provided for each calf individually housed in pens or cribs. Pen height should be a minimum of 1 metre with provision of additional height to allow for adequate ventilation space.

8.9 Social interaction is an important calf welfare need.

In systems using individual pen or crib housing visual contact between calves must be facilitated by:

  • allowing uninterrupted visual contact between calves at the front of individual pens, and
  • restricting the height of solid partitions between calves to a maximum of 50cm from the floor and permitting social interaction and full vision with other calves.

8.10 Every effort should be made to ensure an adequate flow of ventilation to housed calves.

Calves must be protected from rain, wind and extremes of temperature. In cold weather feeds with a high energy value should be provided.

8.11 Where large numbers of calves are reared, they should be grouped by age and size to reduce competition for food and to allow closer observation and management.

9. Cattle handling facilities, mustering and yarding

9.1 Sheds, pens, yards, lanes, ramps and other areas where cattle come together should be constructed and maintained so as to minimise stress, injury and disease.

9.2 Floors of yards, sheds, pens and loading ramps should have a surface that minimises slipping and is easy to clean.

9.3 Holding yards should be designed to minimise stress or injury. Cattle held in yards longer than eight hours should be allowed space to lie down.

Depending on management requirements, cattle should be confined on concrete surfaces as briefly as possible. Prolonged physical contact with concrete floors predisposes cattle to lameness particularly in wet conditions when the horn of the hoof is softened. Artificial floors should be non-slip, non-abrasive and easy to clean and dry.

Gravel tracks to and from paddocks, sheds or dairies should be constructed and maintained adequately to avoid foot lameness. Cattle with foot lameness should not be forced to walk on rough tracks.

9.5 Restraint facilities should allow for safe inspection and treatment of cattle. Races and crushes should be constructed to allow efficient handling of cattle without endangering animals or handlers. Head restraint facilities should allow for quick release and avoid choking. Walk-through bails are preferred — guillotine headbails are not recommended.

9.6 Cattle must not be driven to the point of collapse.

9.7 Cattle should be handled quietly. The use of goads and dogs for the handling and moving of cattle should be limited to the minimum necessary to complete the procedures. Dogs that bite cattle should be muzzled when working.

9.8 Physical goads should be made of material unable to physically damage an animal. 'Flappers' (leather straps attached to a cane) are acceptable. Metal or wooden pickets, pipes, strikers and fencing wire are not acceptable for use on animals.

9.9 Electric goads should be powered only by battery or hand dynamo. Use of electric goads on animals with no room to move or on calves younger than 2 months is not acceptable.

9.10 The use of unreasonable force in twisting an animal's tail to cause it to move is unacceptable.

9.11 Specific guidelines for the transportation of cattle are outlined in Victoria's Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Farm Animals during Transportation, and should be observed.

9.12 Electric fences and electrified backing gates should be designed, maintained and used so that contact with them does not cause unnecessary pain or distress. Backing gates need only to be electrified during initial training of the herd. They should not be electrified continuously in order to avoid the cows becoming stressed. Cattle should have adequate space to respond to the shock imposed.

9.13 Cattle being moved should be kept in familiar groups: except where they are normally run together, it is best to keep separate:

  • horned from polled animals
  • bulls from cows
  • calves from unfamiliar older cattle.

10. Management practices

10.1 General

  • Restraint should be the minimum necessary to perform management procedures efficiently.
  • Procedures and practices that cause pain should not be carried out if painless and practical methods of husbandry can be adopted to achieve the same result.
  • Procedures and practices applied to cattle must be competently performed.
  • Any injury, illness or distress observed should be promptly treated.

10.2 Supervision

  • In any situation, supervision should be by competent stockpersons.
  • Frequency and level of inspection should be related to the potential risks to the welfare of the cattle, and may vary from daily to much longer periods.
  • Cattle kept under intensive management in sheds, lots or yards should be inspected at least daily, fed daily and have ready access to water. Individual attention should be given to shy feeders.
  • Grazing cattle require supervision, according to the class of cattle, density of stocking, availability of suitable feed, reliability of the water supply, age, pregnancy and lactational status, climatic conditions and management practices.
  • It is recommended that where animals are being agisted that there be a written agreement (which defines the care of animals) between the agistee and the agistor, and If there is not a written agreement then the agistor (property owner) is responsible for the care and welfare of the animals (including veterinary care).

10.3 Milking practices

  • Dairy cows should be milked at regular times each day. Cows in full milk should be milked at least twice daily.
  • Careful management of the milking practice and proper milking machine function are essential to the welfare of dairy cattle. Milking machines should be checked by a competent technician at least annually. Milking technique must minimise the risks of discomfort or injury to the cow and the development or transmission of disease.

10.4 Castration

  • Castration with burdizzo should be performed as young as possible.
  • Castration with rubber rings should be ideally performed on calves up to 6 weeks of age and where operations and management make this difficult not beyond twelve weeks.
  • Castration by knife without local or general anaesthetic should be confined to calves under 6 to 8 months of age.
  • Bulls over 6 to 8 months should be castrated using appropriate anaesthetic. Castration of mature bulls should preferably be performed by a veterinarian using anaesthesia.

10.5 Tail docking or brush trimming

  • Tail docking may be performed only when necessary for udder or herd health. Tail docking should only be undertaken on young female cattle preferably under 6 months of age. Surgical removal of the tail should only be performed with the use of anaesthesia.
  • A minimum length of tail should remain sufficient to cover the vulva.

10.6 Dehorning

  • To minimise injury to other cattle all horned cattle should be dehorned as young as possible and at a suitable time to reduce fly worry. After dehorning cattle should be inspected until healing has taken place, and any infected wounds treated.
  • Inward growing horns likely to penetrate or contact facial features should be trimmed appropriately.
  • Dehorning cattle without local anaesthetic or analgesics should preferably be confined to animals under 6 months of age. Older animals may be 'tipped' (ends of horns removed without cutting into sensitive horn tissue) without anaesthetic in order to reduce their potential to cause injury.
  • Dehorning by means of chemicals is not accepted for any class of cattle The recommended methods for dehorning of calves are by heat cautery, scoop dehorners or gouging knife.

10.7 Mating

  • Testing of bulls for serving capacity should only be performed by an experienced operator and cows should have normal reproductive organs; such cows should not be used for longer than two hours in any 24 hour periods. Females which have had one calf may be used with 2 to 3 year old bulls — older cows should be used with adult bulls.
  • Female cattle should not be mated to bulls whose calves are likely to be too large to be born without intervention and appropriate supervision.
  • Artificial insemination of cattle should be performed only by a veterinarian or trained artificial inseminators.

10.8 Calving and weaning practices

Care should be taken to minimise calving difficulties, by the adoption of proper management practices, such as:

  • Selection of heifers for mating only when they have reached the minimum target weight for the breed.
  • Provision of a diet to the pregnant cow to minimise calving difficulties and to favour calf survival.
  • Calving cows should be checked frequently, where possible, but with minimal disturbance. Difficult calvings should be promptly detected and attended by a competent operator.
  • Calves should be weaned only when their ruminant digestive systems have developed sufficiently to enable them to maintain growth and well-being and not earlier than 3 months of age for naturally fed calves or 6 weeks of age for artificially reared calves.
  • Early induction of calving is acceptable when under veterinary supervision.

11. Health

11.1 Appropriate preventive measures should be implemented for diseases that are common in a district or are likely to occur in the herd. A suitable vaccination, internal and external parasite control plan should be devised and followed for each farm.

11.2 Internal medications, such as vaccines and drenches, and external medications, such as dips and pour-on formulations, should be stored and given in strict accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and recommended methods of administration. Overdosing may harm cattle and underdosing may result in failure of the medication. Expiry dates and withholding periods should be strictly observed.

11.3 Sick, injured or diseased cattle should be treated promptly and appropriately, or humanely slaughtered. Separation from other cattle is recommended while the condition persists. Where emergency killing is indicated it should be performed promptly and humanely.

11.4 Cows with cancer eye should be culled or treated as soon as possible after cancer is noticed. Cancers must not be allowed to progress untreated simply to permit the cow to complete raising a calf.

12. Humane destruction of cattle

12.1 The preferred methods of euthanasia are:

  • overdose of anaesthetic under veterinary supervision;
  • euthanasia using gunshot or captive-bolt pistol by the frontal method. The captive-bolt pistol or firearm should be directed at the point of intersection of lines taken from the base of each ear to the opposite eye (See Figure 1).

Diagram showing the position to shoot cattle as described in previous text

'a' Position for temporal method (Suitable for firearms only)
'b' Position for frontal method (Firearm or captive-bolt pistol)
'c' Position for poll method (Firearms only)

12.2 An animal stunned with a captive bolt pistol must be bled out by severing the major vessels of the neck as soon as it collapses to the ground. To avoid injury due to the animal's involuntary leg movements, the operator should stand behind the neck.

12.3 Killing may also be achieved by gunshot using the temporal or poll methods. All other methods of killing are unacceptable except under extreme conditions in which common sense and genuine concern for animal and human welfare should prevail.

Approved by the Governor in Council, 12 June 1996
Published in the Victorian Government Gazette 29 May 1997
Issued by the Minister for Agriculture and Resources
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.

Page last updated: 29 Jan 2024