Research Seminar 28.10.2008: Effect of methods of calf rearing on behaviour, production and welfare


<div>Calf housing in individual pens instead of group housing, lack of sucking opportunities, and low milk intake are factors that may reduce the welfare of calves. Studies at Helsinki University (Department of Animal Science, Research Centre for Animal Welfare) for D. Sc.(Agr. & For.) Helena Hepola’s dissertation evaluated the rearing of calves in relation to production, calf behaviour and welfare. </div>

D. Sc.(Agr. & For.) Helena Hepola
Animal Health and Welfare Unit
Evira/Helsinki Viikki, Auditorium C111 Kalevi
Tuesday 28.10.2008, at 3:00 – 4:00 pm

This study concluded that calves might be housed outdoors in groups under cold and variable weather conditions presuming they are attended to and fed with utmost care. Calves housed in groups commenced consuming dry feeds as well as ruminating when younger than did those housed in individual pens. The behavioural problem of sucking other calves that occurs in groups may be reduced by feeding and management methods.

When the calves restrictively were allowed to suckle their mothers after milking they learnt to suckle very fast. As allowed restrictively to suckle, the calves’ suckled large amounts of milk at a time. However, weaning from large amounts of milk at an age of five weeks was too early, as the calves did not yet sufficiently consume dry feeds.

When freely given acidified milk replacer the calves on the average drunk only little water, no matter the water source was an open bucket or a water nipple. The calves had less water at one time from nipples than from buckets, and spent during a day more time drinking water than those drinking from buckets. Most calves had water from the drinking nipples in a special way, e.g., by pressing the nipple with their foreheads, and drinking dripping water.

With increasing amounts of milk, calf growth clearly improves. High milk intake though reduces the intake of dry feeds, and growth may slow down at the weaning stage. Important is that weaning is gradual so that no growth changes would develop.

Results of feed intake and growth not always present a proper view on differences among rearing methods with respect to the welfare of animals. Behaviour is a sensitive measure of welfare and should always be taken into account in evaluations of methods for animal housing.

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