Assessing the welfare of dairy calves: outcome-based measures of calf health versus input-based measures of the use of risky management practices
The mortality and morbidity of unweaned dairy calves and management practices that may impair calf health and welfare were surveyed on 115 farms in Canada (Quebec) and 60 farms in Central Europe (Austria and Germany) to examine whether outcome-based measures of calf health could be used to identify farms that use management practices that place calf health at risk. Quebec herds had higher juvenile mortality incidence than those in Central Europe. Juvenile mortality was poorly estimated by producers. Low levels of mortality did not include low levels of morbidity in the same herds. Health status was not necessarily associated with management practices generally recommended for health and welfare. Many management practices that may impair calf health and welfare were found in Quebec while only some were found in Central Europe; these were related to calving management and care of the newborn, colostrum management, calf-dam separation, calf feeding, weaning and calf housing. Inadequate recording of calf morbidity and mortality can be a problem in using recorded measures to assess the level of calf health on a farm. The recorded mortality and morbidity do not necessarily show the extent that producers use management practices that pose a risk to calf health.
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