Improving the welfare of unweaned dairy calves undergoing long-distance transport

Project: PhD

Project Details


Due to its compact spring calving system and rapidly growing herd size, the Irish dairy industry produces a large number of calves that are not needed for replacement in the dairy herd in a 2-3 months period every spring. Over 140,000 of these unweaned calves are exported to continental Europe for veal and beef production annually. Livestock transport, especially of young animals, is a topic of growing public concern due to its many challenges to animal welfare. Adverse effects on the welfare of calves include hunger, dehydration, social stress, discomfort, injury and infection, caused by a range of stressors such as prolonged food and water deprivation, extreme temperatures, handling and mixing with other animals, and exposure to novel pathogens and environments. Because of long fasting times and resulting hunger and energy depletion, long-distance transport is particularly challenging for calf welfare. Pre- and post-transport feeding are crucial factors in managing the adverse effects of prolonged fasting, but clinical and physiological data indicating welfare in relation to feeding practices on long-distance road and ferry journeys are lacking. Young unweaned calves are especially vulnerable to the impacts of transport due to an immature immune system and a lack of body reserves, but the ideal calf age for transport is yet to be determined. The aim of this project is to investigate strategies that may improve the welfare of unweaned dairy calves during and following long-distance transport. Specifically, it will assess how pre- and post­ transport feeding protocols and the age at which calves are exported affect various physiological, immunological, and health-based parameters of welfare. For this purpose, we will superimpose experimental treatments onto commercial long-distance exports from Ireland to the Netherlands and monitor calf welfare during and following transportation.
Effective start/end date1/11/21 → …


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