Can welfare assessment and risk factor analysis contribute to welfare improvement in veal calves?

H. Leruste, M. Brscic, G. Cozzi, B.J. Lensink, E.A.M. Bokkers, C.G. van Reenen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstract


In Europe, minimal standards for the protection of veal calves are defined in EU directives. These standards however do not necessarily guarantee a sufficient level of animal welfare as each farm has specific conditions for housing and management that may cause welfare issues. There is a demand for a scientifically-approved on-farm animal welfare assessment tool. In this study, animal-based measures for the assessment of 5 welfare aspects, i.e. human-animal relationship, abnormal oral behaviours, respiratory, gastrointestinal and locomotion problems in veal calves were developed and assessed for their validity, feasibility and repeatability on a large sample of 174 veal farms across Europe. Factors such as season had an effect on the outcome of the welfare assessment. They should be considered carefully during welfare assessments and should be taken into account when evaluating and comparing farms. After this validation phase, factors imposing a potential risk and factors potentially beneficial for welfare were identified on farms. Twenty-two measures belonging to the 5 welfare aspects were selected for a risk factor analysis. For each measure the best model (with all factors significantly affecting the measure and with the highest R2) was selected using logistic regression. The best models explained between 16 and 48% of the variance. The factors that were significant in the models were related to several characteristics of the farm such as production and housing system (e.g. number of calves per pen, type of floor), batch of calves (e.g. breed, weight at arrival), management of calves and farmer’s experience (e.g. use of babyboxes, year of experience), feed and feed distribution system (e.g. amount of milk powder, type of solid feed). Knowing these factors and understanding their effect on the outcome of welfare measures can help in advising farmers in their effort to improve welfare of veal calves. Risk factors for the welfare of calves could be further investigated and risk factor analyses could be implemented once larger data sets become available from future welfare assessments. More research in specific experimental set-ups could be performed, to determine causality between risk factors and welfare measures. This can contribute to the provision of scientifically-sound advice to veal farmers and the improvement of veal calf welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 6th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level (WAFL 2014)
EditorsL. Mounier, I. Veissier
Place of PublicationWageningen, The Netherlands
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Print)9789086862474
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventWAFL2014 6th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare - Clermont Ferrand, France
Duration: 3 Sept 20145 Sept 2014


ConferenceWAFL2014 6th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare
CityClermont Ferrand


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