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Management and housing

Recommendations

326. Appropriate supervision at calving will prevent a large proportion of calving difficulties and losses. However, interference at the wrong time can lead to problems. Stockmen in charge of calving should be adequately trained in the care of the cow and calf.

327. Immediately after birth, the cow should be able to lick her calf. If she is not able to do this, care should be taken to ensure that the calf's mouth and nostrils are clear of foetal membranes and mucus. The calf's navel should be treated with suitable antiseptic.

328. The needs of the calf are best provided for by leaving it with the mother in an appropriate environment so that the calf can suck and interact with other calves. However, general industry practice for many years has been for the mother to be present for a short time only and most calves are removed within 24 to 48 hours of birth. Ideally, young calves reared without their mothers should receive human contact, preferably from the same stockman throughout the growing period.

329. Concern has been expressed that removal of the calf at such an early age is not in the welfare interests of the cow or calf. Others argue that if it is not possible to keep a calf with its mother for six months, as in a beef suckler herd, then the least cruel act is to separate them as soon as possible 5 . Leaving a calf with its mother until weaning and separation occur naturally may be an ideal but is not practicable within the present modern dairy industry. As the industry is currently set up, early separation is the least stressful option.

5. Webster, A J F (1994). Animal Welfare, A Cool Eye Towards Eden, 178-180.

330. Individual pens, which have open sides, allow some social contact with neighbouring calves and have advantages for disease control. However, group housing allows a better, more complex social life and, with sufficient space allowance, adequate opportunities for exercise and exploration. There are limits to the number of animals which should be in one section of a building and disease risks associated with mixing calves from different sources should be considered. It is inadvisable to allow calves to share the airspace with older animals.

331. Housed calves require a dry, well-bedded, adequately ventilated and draught-free environment. Calves must be provided with sufficient space for each to adopt a comfortable lying position, such as lying with the head on the partially extended legs or with the legs stretched out. Good ventilation is essential for the prevention of pneumonia. Ventilation should never be restricted in an attempt to raise air temperature.

332. An alternative to rearing calves indoors is the use of individual calf kennels (or hutches) outdoors. Advantages include ample fresh air and the avoidance of a build-up of infectious diseases because the kennels are moved to clean ground after each occupant. A major disadvantage is that calves are physically separated from each other and thus are not allowed to mix with others which is part of their natural social behaviour. EU legislation requires that the tethering of calves be banned after January 1998, except for group housed calves which can be tethered for no more than one hour at feeding.

Calves are often tethered when in kennels and it is not clear whether the EU rules deliberately set out to prohibit this method. An extended run adjacent to each kennel might be an alternative.

333. We welcome the European Commission's recent decision which will effectively phase out the veal crate throughout the EU by the end of 2006 but would have preferred a much earlier phase-out date.

Recommendations

334. Knowledge of the effect of separation on both the welfare of calf and cow is limited and further research is required to identify such effects and to ascertain at what age it is least stressful to separate cow and calf. The research should take into consideration the potential benefits that both might derive from being kept together within a practicable dairy system.

335. If any calf has not taken any or all of its feed in a reasonable time, a careful examination should be carried out to determine the possible cause.

336. Calves should be provided with sufficient space for each to adopt a comfortable lying position, such as lying with the head on the partially extended legs or with the legs stretched out.

337. All calf housing should be adequately ventilated and ventilation should not be restricted to raise air temperature.

338. Farmers and stockmen should familiarise themselves with the MAFF booklet "Improving Calf Survival'; PB 3335.