ABSTRACT. But the collocation, ‘bobby calf,’ thought to have originated in the 1920s, is just too cute by half (Lexico, 2021; OED, 2021). I believe it deceptively belies the reality that is the calves’ abbreviated existence (and everything that comes before). What exactly is a bobby calf? I know the answer, but I’m curious to see how honest the industry is about the fact that bobby calves are infant non-human animals that are removed from their mothers (whose pregnancy was likely due to systematised sexual assault) and slaughtered, en masse, at just a few days-old, born so that their mothers’ bodies are triggered into producing milk for (adult) humans who do not need it. The humans include, judging by the persistent presence of milk-cartons or plastic-bottles inside the otherwise empty fridges of university schools of ‘critical’ education (the sight of it always radiating out to me when I peel the door open, the subject of it often drifting into well-intentioned campus inductions: how one might extract it from a central fridge and bring it to a satellite/outpost fridge [the one that is in the department, the doctoral hub, the …]), scholars of critical education. I’m interested in the elaborate means by which the dairy industry in New Zealand attempts to hide the scandal (and, in some instances, criminality) that is bobby calf treatment and slaughter, and the fact that bobby calves come to exist, in the first place. On April 29, 2021, I spent the day online, in search of an honest and accurate official definition (by ‘official,’ I mean one that comes from the industry and/or Government body). What follows is an engagement with the content of the ‘hits’ that were yielded from an internet search into ‘bobby calves un-weaned calves that are no less than four days old when slaughtered,’ which, in turn, stimulated into existence a number of activist-oriented ‘pastoral interventions.’ As I followed the animal, my search yielded more data than I, or a footnote, could handle, and I found myself still writing about bobby calves two (now three, now four …) weeks later. Undertaking research for a footnote about them (for another piece of writing about animal exploitation: the original purpose of my internet search) essentially became an entangled research event that was not ethically possible, nor even affectively feasible (because of the affects it generated in me) to turn away from (and so I won’t, not until the practices of this industry are stopped).

Keywords: bobby calves; animal activism; New Zealand dairy industry; animal-industrial complex; Critical Animal Studies; New Materialism

How to cite: O’Sullivan, V. (2021). “Vibrant Matter’s Fitness for Death: The Scandal of Bobby Calves in New Zealand’s Farming Industry,” Knowledge Cultures 9(2): 59–116. doi: 10.22381/kc9220213.

Received 16 May 2021 • Received in revised form 25 June 2021
Accepted 28 June 2021 • Available online 1 July 2021

Victoria O’Sullivan
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University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand

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