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AS veterinary professionals, we know that dairy calf welfare is an emotive issue and of importance to the profession, public and farmers. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act (2006) and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations (2007) state that calves must not be housed individually after the age of eight-weeks-old. However, defining if and how much social isolation in early life affects immediate and long-term health and welfare can be difficult, with contradicting findings often complicating the issue.
In a paper summarised on p 512 in this week's issue of Veterinary Record, Curtis and others (2016) suggest that group housing and the sharing of a teat on an automatic calf feeder led to an increase in the incidence of diarrhoea and respiratory disease in early life. The two groups of dairy calves in the study experienced different housing conditions (group or individual) and different ways of accessing milk (automatic feeder or bucket, ad libum or restricted), so it is not absolutely possible to know which of these changes (or both) were associated with the difference in disease incidence. However, this new research stimulates debate over the optimal way to artificially rear calves.
As is so often the case, the results are likely to be framed within previous experience and personally …