Evaluation of on-farm veal calves' responses to unfamiliar humans and potential influencing factors

H. Leruste, E.A.M. Bokkers, L.F.M. Heutinck, M. Wolthuis-Fillerup, J.T.N. van der Werf, M. Brscic, G. Cozzi, B. Engel, C.G. van Reenen, B.J. Lensink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The human–animal relationship is an important component of the welfare of farm animals and for this reason animal responsiveness tests to humans are included in on-farm welfare assessment schemes that provide indicators for this. However, apart from the behaviour of stockpersons towards their animals, other factors may also influence animals’ reactivity to humans as observed through behavioural tests, which can add a further layer of complexity to the interpretation of test results. Knowledge of these factors may help a better interpretation of differences from one farm to another in the outcome of human–animal relationship tests, and may provide clues for improving the relationship between animals and humans. The main objective of this study was to identify whether management or environmental factors could influence the outcome of human–animal relationship tests in veal calves. Two tests were performed when calves were aged 14.9 ± 1.6 (SD) weeks in 148 veal farms: the voluntary approach of an unfamiliar human standing at the feeding fence and the reaction towards an unfamiliar human who entered the home pen and tried to touch each calf in a standardised way (Calf Escape Test (CET) – score 0 to 4). Questionnaires were filled in and interviews with the stockpersons were performed in order to obtain information on stockpersons, management, animal and building characteristics. The latency to touch an unfamiliar human at the feeding fence was significantly correlated with the CET scores. Total number of calves on the farm, space allowance, breed, environmental enrichment, stockperson's experience and season of observation influenced the percentage of calves that scored 0 in CET (i.e. calves that could not be approached). Type of milk distribution, type of breed and number of calves per stockperson influenced the percentage of calves that scored 4 in CET (i.e. calves could be touched). For both CET0 and CET4, the level of self-reported contacts by the stockperson (analysed only on the French subset of 36 farms) did not influence the results. This paper concludes that according to the tests conducted on veal calves on commercial farms, factors such as milk distribution method, breed of the calves or the level of experience of stockpersons with veal farming can have an impact on the results of tests focusing on human–animal relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2003-2010
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • human-animal interactions
  • commercial dairy-cows
  • human contact
  • test-retest
  • behavior
  • cattle
  • pigs
  • reliability
  • management
  • welfare


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