Impact of early dam contact on veal calf welfare
Webb, L.E.; Marcato, F.; Bokkers, E.A.M.; Verwer, C.M.; Wolthuis-Fillerup, M.; Hoorweg, F.A.; Brand, H. van den; Jensen, M.B.; Reenen, C.G. van
Dairy calves, including surplus calves, are typically separated from their dam within hours of birth. The aim of this study was to assess the welfare impacts of raising surplus calves destined for veal with their dam for 2 or 4 weeks until transport. Surplus calves from one dairy farm were separated from their dam at birth (n = 39) or kept with the dam (n = 37) until transport to the veal farm at either 2 (n = 50) or 4 (n = 26) weeks of age, with abrupt separation for dam-reared calves. Calf measures of body weight, health, immunity, haematology and behaviour were recorded at the dairy and veal farms. Dam-reared calves had higher body weights in weeks 3, 4 and 5 at the DF, as well as at arrival at the veal farm, but by slaughter this advantage was lost. More dam-reared calves had fever in week 3 and showed signs of disease in week 5 at the dairy farm. Dam-reared calves did not differ in IgG, IgA or IgM levels but had higher counts of white blood cells, which could reflect a higher pathogen exposure rather than improved immunity. Dam-reared calves displayed more fear towards humans in a human approach test at 5 and 7 weeks after arrival at the veal farm, and more frequent social behaviours at the veal farm at 9 and 16 weeks of age. In conclusion, it seems that there may be both advantages and disadvantages to keeping veal calves with the dam in terms of welfare in the current system.