Welfare implications of prolonged cow-calf contact in dairy farming

Margret Lisanne Wenker

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In dairy farming it is standard practice to separate the calf from the cow shortly after birth, which has raised questions in society regarding animal welfare. Alternative rearing systems that allow for prolonged cow-calf contact are receiving increasing interest from various stakeholders. Yet, little is known about how different types of cow-calf contact (i.e. partial or full contact) may contribute to improving calf rearing conditions in a farm setting with respect to animal welfare. Partial contact allows only for limited cow-calf interactions, whereas full contact includes suckling. This thesis examined welfare implications of different types of cow-calf contact in comparison with a rearing system without prolonged cow-calf contact. Full contact enhanced cows’ motivation to reunite with their calf and increased the expression of maternal-filial behaviour, although it compromised calf health and caused distress in calves during debonding compared to the other rearing systems. Partial contact allowed for some expressions of species-specific behaviour and seemed to mitigate some drawbacks observed in the full contact system related to calf health and weaning distress. Overall, the findings in this thesis showed that trade-offs for animal welfare existed in both partial and full CCC systems. Strategies that could potentially mitigate the downsides of prolonged CCC systems relate to improved cow-calf housing, calf feeding and monitoring, and newborn management

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bokkers, E.A.M., Promotor
  • van Reenen, Kees, Co-promotor
Award date13 May 2022
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789464471113
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2022


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