Veal calves raised under intensive conditions may express non-nutritive oral behaviors. When expressed in an abnormal way, these behaviors can be a sign of mental suffering and reduced welfare due to a mismatch between environmental or management features and animals' needs. The aims of this study were to estimate the prevalence of non-nutritive oral behaviors in a large sample of veal farms in Europe and to determine the potential influencing factors present at farm level. Data were collected on 157 commercial veal farms in the 3 main veal-producing countries in Europe (the Netherlands, France, and Italy). Observations of 3 non-nutritive oral behaviors (manipulating substrates, tongue rolling, and manipulating a penmate) were performed when calves were aged 14 wk, and the prevalence of these behaviors was calculated. Information on management practices and characteristics of the building and equipment were collected on all farms to assess potential influencing factors for each of the 3 behaviors. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated to evaluate the effect of each individual factor within a generalized linear model. The mean percentage of calves per farm performing manipulating substrates was 11.0 ± 0.46%, performing tongue rolling 2.8 ± 0.18%, and manipulating a penmate 2.7 ± 0.09%, with a high range between farms. Allowing more space for calves than the legal minimum requirement of 1.8 m2/calf and housing them in groups of >10 calves/pen reduced the incidences of manipulating substrates and tongue rolling. Incidence of manipulating substrates was lower for calves fed maize silage compared with calves fed cereal grain, pellets, or muesli. A higher risk of tongue rolling was found when baby-boxes (i.e., single housing during the first 5 to 8 wk) were not used. Risk of calves manipulating a penmate was higher for calves of milk- or meat-type breeds compared with dual-purpose breeds and for calves fed with 280 to 380 kg compared with those fed >380 kg of milk powder in total for the fattening period. The study allowed assessment of multiple factors across farms that showed variety in terms of conditions and level of non-nutritive oral behaviors. Identification of the factors influencing non-nutritive oral behavior is helpful to define potential actions that could be taken on farms to improve the welfare of calves and reduce the prevalence of these behaviors.
- housing systems
- dairy calves