Most people do not realize that veal is produced from male (bull) dairy calves. On a dairy farm, these bull calves are not needed for replenishing the milking herd because they cannot produce milk and they are generally not used to produce beef. All dairy cows must give birth to a calf each year to provide the milk that we drink. Approximately 50% of all calves born are female calves (heifers). These heifers will eventually be used by the dairy producer to replace older cows for milking purposes. Only a very select few of all the bull calves born are used for breeding stock. Dairy producers will sell the bull calves to veal producers, either privately or through a sales barn. Therefore, bull calves can be used by the veal industry to create a quality food product.
The veal industry got its start on the local dairy farm. Dairy farmers originally raised their male calves as breeding bulls. The best bull calves were kept for reproduction and the rest were sold to neighbouring farmers as breeding stock. Over the years, as consumer demand for more milk products like cheese, ice cream and yogurt increased, a greater emphasis on high quality milk production technology was placed on the dairy producer. As well, dairy producers began to use the new technology of artificial insemination (AI) for breeding. This meant that dairy producers no longer needed to keep bulls on the farm for reproduction purposes. At that point, bull calves were used almost exclusively for meat production by dairy producers. As dairy producers became highly specialized over time, veal producers began to buy bull calves from the dairy farmer to raise for veal. An abundance of by-products from different dairy manufacturing processes enabled the veal producer to utilize these valuable nutrient sources as main ingredients in the production of milk replacers. Today, there are still some dairy producers who raise their own bull calves. However, the majority of veal calves are raised on specialized veal farms.
Ontario and Quebec are the largest Canadian producers of veal because they also have the greatest number of dairy farms. Combined, Ontario and Quebec account for approximately 97% of Canada's veal production. Ontario veal production represents approximately 45% of this total and Quebec the other 52%.
There are two types of veal produced in Ontario: milk fed and grain fed veal. Milk fed veal calves are raised on a balanced diet containing all the necessary nutrients for animal health. As a result of this milk based diet, the meat is light pink in colour and possesses a mild taste and a soft texture. Milk fed calves will reach a market weight of 450-500 lbs (205 kg to 227 kg). Grain fed veal is pink in colour and has a similar taste to beef but not as strong. These calves are fed a milk based diet for their first 6 to 8 weeks after which a corn and protein supplement are gradually introduced to their diet. Grain fed veal will reach a market weight of 650 to 700 lbs (296 kg to 318 kg).