The implications of cow-calf contact for calf health and welfare.
This project aims to more fundamentally understand the implications, both positive and negative, of cow-calf rearing for the health and welfare of dairy calves. The project will try to identify which cow-related factors (e.g. with respect to behaviour or microbiology) are most relevant for health and welfare of calves, and will examine strategies to mimic or implement these factors in dairy husbandry.
Central in this project are on-farm experiments comparing different rearing conditions involving variable levels of maternal contact, including no contact following separation from the dam directly after birth, only physical contact without access to the udder, and full contact including suckling the dam in the first 8 weeks of life.
The impact of these rearing treatments will be examined in terms of behavioural, physiological, immunological, and microbiological response parameters in growing calves until (early) adulthood. Calves are longitudinally followed-up from an early age until the beginning of first lactation (females), or until the end of the fattening period on a veal farm (predominantly male calves).
The knowledge obtained in this project will help to improve and innovate dairy calf rearing practices.