"Is calf welfare good enough?"

Description

On Thursday 19th October, AWF hosted a though-provoking debate on calf welfare at BCVA Congress as part of a new initiative, the "BCVA Forum". Despite notable progress in calf welfare, attendees recognised the need for further improvements and a shift in perspective: good welfare is more than just good health. Nicola Gladden, Farm Animal Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham and AWF Trustee, was the session’s chair, and wrote a summary of the discussion below.

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The AWF BCVA discussion forum was held at the British Cattle Veterinary Association annual conference in Telford on 19th October 2023 debating the motion “calf welfare: is it good enough?” The event was well attended and there was engaged and lively debate from the audience and the expert panel composed of:
  • Tim Potter, Clinical Director, Westpoint Farm Vets
  • Ali Haggerty, Freelance Veterinary Consultant
  • Laura Palczynski, Livestock Research Assistant, Innovation for Agriculture
  • Charles Ellet, Dairy Manager, The Ethical Dairy
It was agreed that whilst there have been substantial advances in calf welfare, there is still room for improvement. Key points and questions raised during the discussion were:
  • Good welfare is more than just good health and a wider perspective on welfare assessment is perhaps needed by veterinary surgeons.
  • What suits one calf rearing system may not suit all systems
  • Beef-cross calves need to be considered as more than by-products of the dairy industry and should be considered as important to a dairy business as dairy heifer calves.
  • We should be breeding and managing all calves for more resilience of stressful events that may be unavoidable
  • Is the future more integration in the system, or will this lead to longer chains and longer distance transport for calves?
Everyone very much enjoyed the session, which was the only welfare focussed discussion of the Congress, and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. This successful collaboration between BCVA and AWF could become an annual occurrence, fostering continuous dialogue, driving progress and improvement in animal welfare.

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At the beginning of the session, we asked participants what are the challenges to improving calf welfare on farm and  these were their thoughts: 

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The final poll from our session showed that our focus should also include welfare, not only health, and that welfare is everyone's business: