Slaughter of Pregnant Cattle in Denmark: Prevalence, Gestational Age, and Reasons
By S. S. Nielsen, P. Sandøe, S. U. Kjølsted, & J. S. Agerholm (2019)
The slaughter of pregnant cattle gives rise to ethical controversy. We estimated the prevalence of pregnant cattle, elucidated the reasons for their slaughter, and in light of our findings, discussed the ethics of sending pregnant cattle for slaughter. Among 825 female cattle >353 days of age admitted to a Danish abattoir, 187 (23%) were found to be pregnant. There was no apparent difference in the proportion of pregnant animals between dairy and non-dairy cattle. “Health”-related slaughter was most frequent in dairy herds (70%), whereas “production”-related slaughter was most frequent in non-dairy herds (63%). While many farmers considered it unethical to slaughter pregnant cows without a good reason for doing so, many dairy farmers identified animal welfare as an important parameter in the decision, which was typically when the general condition of the cow or heifer would make it difficult for her to pass through calving and subsequent lactation. The many pregnant animals sent for slaughter were often the result of deliberate choices. Non-dairy farmers often kept a bull with their female cattle, and in many instances, this resulted in the mating of cattle intended for slaughter. Although considered ethically problematic by many dairy farmers, the slaughter of pregnant dairy cattle was often considered better for the cow compared to a stressful lactation period.