There are many different systems for raising cattle for meat,
the least intensive being the suckler herd. The calf is kept
with its mother until weaned and then put on grass until it
is heavy enough to be killed at about two years old.
At the other end of the spectrum, the most intensive method
is where calves are taken from their mothers at birth and reared
in pens on milk replacer and feed pellets. During the first
week of their lives they are usually castrated and have their
horn buds chemically burnt out. In the case of older cows a
hot iron might be used and, theoretically at any rate, an anaesthetic.
To put weight on before slaughter they are taken to fattening
sheds and fed on high quality cereals. There may be straw bedding
but it is becoming common to use slatted concrete floors on
which cattle find it difficult to stand, often resulting in
lameness. Some farms keep up to 8,000 animals this way, cramming
them into sheds to stop them from moving around and "wasting" energy
in keeping warm. They gain weight quickly and are ready for
slaughter at only 11 to 12 months old.