Key beef cattle welfare problems and how RSPCA Assured helps

Key beef cattle welfare problems and how RSPCA Assured helps

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One of the key issues for beef cattle is housing.

Beef cattle often need to be kept indoors during the winter months, when the weather may be bad and their diet largely consists of conserved feeds such as hay, straw or silage due to little or no pasture growth during the winter. 

However, being kept indoors can lead to respiratory problems if the ventilation inside the buildings is bad, this is particularly an issue in young cattle.

This is why good housing construction and management is necessary to avoid any potential welfare problems in beef cattle. Other issues which can cause poor welfare are lack of adequate space and bedding, slatted flooring with no bedding, and poor handling systems.



Beef production methods

In the UK, there are two main methods of production.

  • Suckler herds - purebred beef calves are reared by their mothers until they are weaned at around six to eight months. They are then fattened ready for slaughter either on-farm or elsewhere.
  • Finishing farms - animals are bought in either as young calves from the dairy herd or as “stores” which are weaned cattle from a suckler or dairy herd. The animals are fattened ready for slaughter on these farms. Most animals are housed for the final stages of finishing.  

Veal production

Traditionally, male purebred dairy calves from the dairy industry have been raised by beef farmers, however, in recent years this situation has changed since purebred dairy calves are either not considered to have any economic value or are not considered to be of good enough quality to be reared for beef.

This results in many calves being killed on-farm. Some calves are sent for export to countries where the systems for rearing them does not supply any bedding and where their dietary needs are not met. Such systems would not be legal in the UK.

From 2006 to 2013, the RSPCA, along with a number of other organisations, worked to encourage the use of these animals to supply the home beef market through the “Beyond Calf Export Forum”. This initiative has 

since been taken over by the Cattle Health and Welfare Group, which includes the RSPCA among its members.

What makes RSPCA Assured different?

The RSPCA has set out standards which are far more detailed and which go beyond the minimum legal UK requirements. These are based on the latest scientific evidence and practical experience, and together with RSPCA Farm Livestock Officers, RSPCA Assured assessors check that these standards are met on all assured farms.

Inspector with cows

Beef cattle have better lives under the RSPCA Assured scheme

  • They must be kept in an environment with suitable air flow to prevent respiratory diseases
  • They cannot be fed diets which would cause an imbalance in their digestion system. This can happen when animals are fed diets too high in concentrates and too low in fibre
  • A veterinary health and welfare plan must be written up for each herd, addressing and monitoring the herd’s health and welfare. This must be formulated and written up with a veterinary surgeon and reviewed at least once a year
  • They are given plenty of space and must always have a bedded area to lie down in
  • They cannot be transported for longer than eight hours
  • They must be stunned before slaughter

In order for any beef product to be labelled RSPCA Assured, it must meet the standards laid out by the RSPCA.

How you can help

At present, there are no retail beef products carrying the RSPCA Assured logo readily available. If you do eat beef and would like to make higher welfare choices, you can look for beef products from animals reared in

extensive systems, such as suckler herd systems.

RSPCA Assured is the RSPCA's food label dedicated to farm animal welfare. With the help of our customers, we can let supermarkets know that there is a high demand for higher welfare products including beef. To add your voice, please visit our lobby your supermarket pages.

You can make a difference by choosing beef - including veal burger and mince - which is labelled RSPCA Assured. If you can’t find RSPCA Assured labelled beef then look for British beef.

Would you like to find out more?

If you would like to know more, you will find lots more information about the welfare of beef cattle and other species on the RSPCA website.