PhD defence

Welfare implications of prolonged cow-calf contact in dairy farming


In dairy farming it is standard practice to separate the calf from the cow shortly after birth, which has raised questions in society regarding animal welfare. Alternative rearing systems that allow for prolonged cow-calf contact are receiving increasing interest from various stakeholders. Yet, little is known about how different types of cow-calf contact (i.e. partial or full contact) may contribute to improving calf rearing conditions in a farm setting with respect to animal welfare. Partial contact allows only for limited cow-calf interactions, whereas full contact includes suckling. This thesis examined welfare implications of different types of cow-calf contact in comparison with a rearing system without prolonged cow-calf contact. Full contact enhanced cows’ motivation to reunite with their calf and increased the expression of maternal-filial behaviour, although it compromised calf health and caused distress in calves during debonding compared to the other rearing systems. Partial contact allowed for some expressions of species-specific behaviour and seemed to mitigate some drawbacks observed in the full contact system related to calf health and weaning distress.