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Animal welfare assessment of dairy calves and heifers at 24 Dutch dairy
Ep Hartman
Dr. Ir. E. Bokkers (APS)
The aim of the study was to assess the welfare situation of dairy calves and heifers at Dutch
dairy farms. To be able to assess welfare a protocol had to be developed first. In total 1250
animals were observed on 24 dairy farms. The data were obtained from the female young
stock housed in group housing. The animals were divided into four age categories: 0 months
till weaning; weaning till 6 months; 6 till 12 months and 12 till 18 months. During farm visits
the following measures were done; avoidance distance; behavioral observations; clinical
scoring; resources checklist; management questionnaire.
The average avoidance distance was between 10 and 49 cm. The categories differed from
each other in the behavioral observations and clinical scoring. Three behaviors (idle, feeding,
ruminating) were scored at 84% of the observations. Categories differed for lying idle
(F=15.797; P<0.001), feeding (F= 12.374; P< 0.001), and standing ruminating (F= 2.836; P<
0.05). In clinical scoring differences were found for deviant respiration (F=4.753; P<0.005)
and coughing (F=3.332; P<0.05). Over all categories a positive correlation was found
between deviant respiration and body condition. The highest correlation (r=0.478 ; P=0.000)
was found between deviant respiration and >30% less body condition than average in the
The resource checklist showed that 90% and 76% of the pens with concrete floor, were
slippery for respectively category 1 and 2. Temperature and amount of colostrum provided
per time differed between farms, respectively 7°C - 38°C and 0.75 l - 8 l. The estimated
percentage of navel infection per year was 3.2% on farms that disinfected (n=12) versus
2.8% on the farms that did not disinfect (n=12). The overall results of the study indicated a
good animal welfare situation for young stock at the farms. The collected information offered
a good basis to assess animal welfare.
© Animal Production Systems Group 2010