In New Zealand, over two million dairy calves between four and seven days of age are sent to meat processing premises every year. There is a need to develop protocols for holistically assessing the welfare of calves sent to slaughter in the first week of life.
This study aimed to determine the prevalence of potential animal-based indicators of the welfare state in bobby calves in lairage. The study observed calves in lairage between June and October 2016.
Data collection involved assessing groups of calves in pens followed by non-invasive measurements on up to five calves within each pen. We made 23 visits to 12 meat processing premises with group-level observations made on 5910 calves in 102 pens, followed by a non-invasive examination of 504 calves. During the group level observations, none of the calves had their heads tilted or were panting, and coughing and play behaviour were observed in only 1 per cent of pens.
In contrast, at least one calf had faecal soiling in all the observed pens, with the percentage of calves affected in each pen ranging from 1 per cent to 48 per cent. In the individual observations, more than 60 per cent of calves had signs of some degree of dehydration, and nearly 40 per cent had some faecal soiling present. In addition, 24 per cent of calves had a respiratory rate over 36 breaths per minute, considered higher than normal. The change in prevalence of some indicators-as time spent in lairage increased or as the calving season progressed-is worth further exploration.
Identification of prevalent animal-based indicators facilitates better understanding of the welfare status of young calves in lairage, and these should be incorporated into more holistic calf welfare assessment schemes.
Animals (Basel). 2021;11(8): 2467.doi: 10.3390/ani11082467.
1School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.
2Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.
3EpiCentre, School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.