The emphasis of animal welfare legislation has traditionally been to alleviate animal suffering. Today, the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act states that the welfare of animals should be good. In order to assess animal welfare objectively, animal welfare indicators are used. Most of these indicators measure signs of poor welfare, e.g. ill-health, injuries, abnormal behaviour, or stress. However, good welfare is not the same as absence of poor welfare. The CalfComfort project aims to improve dairy calf welfare by developing positive welfare indicators of good health and fulfilled behavioural needs. Further, we will evaluate and validate selected biomarkers as indicators of positive welfare in the short and the long run. Also, the effect of prolonged maternal contact for the development of calf gut and rumen microbiome will be investigated. In a controlled clinical trial we will compare three management groups. In the first group, cows and calves are housed together until 10 weeks of age. The second group is similar to today’s conventional calf rearing; calves are isolated from their dams at birth, housed individually for the first four weeks and fed restricted amounts of milk. The third group is in between; calves are separated from the dams immediately after birth, but reared with peers and given free milk allowances. We will document effects of free intakes of colostrum on calf growth and health In a separate study, we will also assess the association between the dam's colostrum quality, the calf's intake and its immune staus. We will also conduct focus group interviews with Norwegian dairy farmers to identify motivation and barriers to improve rearing conditions for dairy calves. The findings will be used to develop practical tools for identifying and documenting positive calf welfare on-farm.
Animal welfare is at the forefront of societal and scientific considerations in Europe. Traditionally the emphasis of legislation was to alleviate animal suffering, but today’s Animal Welfare Act states that the welfare of animals should be good. The CalfComfort project focuses on an important knowledge gap related to better understanding and assessment of animal welfare, namely on indicators of positive welfare. The project aims to improve dairy calf welfare by developing positive welfare indicators of good health and fulfilled behavioral needs. A controlled clinical trial will compare three management groups (each n = 24): Calf-cow-contact (housed with their dams until 8 weeks of age), conventional enriched (ad libitum milk, group pen from day 10) and conventional barren (restricted milk feeding, group pen from week 4). A prospective cohort study will be performed to investigate the levels of passive immunity in calves sufficient for protection against diseases under Norwegian conditions. We will also conduct a questionnaire among Norwegian dairy farmers to identify motivation and barriers to improve rearing conditions for dairy calves. The project will identify behavioural indicators of positive welfare (WP2), and evaluate and validate selected biomarkers as indicators of positive welfare in the short and the long run (WP3). The effect of prolonged maternal contact for the development of calf gut and rumen microbiome will be investigated (WP4) and be linked to the onset of rumination. We will document ad libitum intakes of colostrum on calf growth and health, and assess the transfer of immunoglobulins and associated health effects (WP5). Finally, farmers’ motivation for improving rearing conditions, and what they regard as barriers, will be identified and practical tools to document positive calf welfare on-farm will be developed (WP6). New insights into the assessment of positive welfare may have significant implications for our understanding of animal welfare.