Care of Neonatal Calves on Dairy Farms
June 1, 2021
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports restrictions contained in the Health of Animals Regulations on the age at which neonatal calves can be transported on long journeys and at what age they can be transported to auction markets. CVMA recognizes that these changes may result in the retention of some surplus calves on dairy farms for a longer period than in the past. The CVMA maintains that producers have an obligation to provide the same appropriate standard of care to all calves on their farm irrespective of their economic value. Veterinarians should support their clients by providing advice on how to meet appropriate health and welfare standards, and if necessary, how to provide appropriate methods of euthanasia/humane killing.
- The CVMA supports the limits and specific requirements regarding the transport of neonatal calves of eight days of age or less that are contained in the Health of Animals Regulations.
- The CVMA recognizes that the retention of surplus calves on a dairy farm for an additional period poses an obligation on dairy producers to provide an appropriate standard of care for these neonates or if no options to provide adequate care exist, to arrange for their euthanasia.
- Veterinarians should support their clients by providing advice on how to meet appropriate health and welfare standards, and if necessary, how to provide appropriate euthanasia.
- Several management strategies have the potential to reduce the number of surplus dairy calves that are produced.
- Calf production is an essential component of milk production on dairy farms. Some heifer calves are kept on the farm as replacements for cows culled from the herd. Unless the dairy producer is involved in veal or beef production, male calves and some heifer calves born on the farm are surplus to the needs of the dairy producer. If there is a market demand for these surplus calves, they are sold and transported off the farm; to be raised for veal or beef, otherwise, they are euthanized.
- The transport of neonatal calves on long journeys and/or exposure at assembly centres such as auction markets increases the risk of mortality, ill-health, thermal distress, fatigue, stress and injury associated with transportation and mixing of animals from several sources. The fitness of calves must be assessed before transport. Unweaned calves should be transported directly to another farm rather than via an auction (1-9).
- Amendments to Part XII of the Health of Animals Regulations (Transport of Animals) (10) impose restrictions on the transport of calves of eight days of age or younger. Concerns have been raised that these regulatory changes to improve the welfare of calves during transport could have unintended negative consequences for the welfare of dairy calves kept on the farm (11). If a dairy producer is unable to transport their surplus calves off of their farm in compliance with these requirements, they will either have to provide care for these calves until they can be transported or euthanize/humanely kill these surplus calves on the farm (12).
- It is essential that dairy producers provide for the health and welfare requirements of these additional calves. Advice on meeting the welfare requirements of neonatal dairy calves can be found in the NFACC Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle and for Veal Cattle (13,14). Veterinarians are encouraged to discuss the management of neonatal calves with their clients (15,16) and if necessary, update the existing herd health and welfare plan.
- In consultation with a veterinarian, a written protocol for euthanizing surplus neonatal calves that details the appropriate euthanasia method(s) and training of personnel who perform euthanasia should be updated regularly (13,14,17,18).
- Several management strategies have the potential to reduce the number of surplus calves that are produced on dairy farms, these include:
- Use of sexed semen to produce replacement heifer calves from productive cows (19).
- Longer lactations in some cows with high milk production to extend the interval between calf production (20).
- Crossbreeding some cows to beef breeds so that the offspring from these cows are diverted into the beef industry (21).
- Rearing more veal calves on their farm of origin.
- Transporting calves directly to a local veal farm.
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- Boulton AC, Kells NJ, Cogger N, et al. Risk factors for bobby calf mortality across the New Zealand dairy supply chain. Prev Vet Med. 2020;174. Available from : https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0167587719301874?token=8AFB391DFAC6DB7FF1A637228A018CC5CBF0C042ECE5E05FD9CF0DDA06A3A1ECA569C8FE2C817E1A22448C2A63EE41A8. Last accessed February 2021.
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- National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle. (2009) available from : https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/dairy-cattle . Last accessed February 2021.
- NFACC. Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Veal Cattle. (2017) Available from : https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/veal-cattle. Last accessed February 2021.
- Sumner C.L. and von Keyserlingk, M. A. G. Canadian dairy cattle veterinarian perspectives on calf welfare. Journal of Dairy Science, 2018;101:10303-10316. Available from: https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0022-0302%2818%2930815-4. Last accessed February 2021.
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