Calf tests do nothing to promote good welfare

In our latest SAFEtalk blog, SAFE’s CEO Jasmijn de Boo discusses trials into the emotional state of calves.

In the article ‘Kiwi research explores emotions in farm animals’ (New Zealand Herald, Monday 19 December 2016), scientist Gosia Zobel discusses her work conducting trials into the emotional state of dairy calves, commenting on one test that: “The level of anticipation at the sight of the flashing light, and the interaction with the play items, was much greater than expected by the researchers.”

However, this finding should not be surprising given the otherwise barren test environments. Calves would not have had the opportunity to interact with other calves, let alone with their mothers, which is what they would normally do for several months, given the chance.

In these so-called ‘preference testing’ scenarios, researchers sometimes find that animals behave differently to what they expect. The testing environments are frequently standardised, bearing so little resemblance to animals’ natural environments that they do not invite natural behaviour.

While calves are precocial animals, born with their eyes open, a good coat and the ability to walk within hours, they still need their mothers. They need to be able to follow on foot quickly, as cattle have evolved to be able to stay away from predators. This ability does not make young calves independent and able to fend for themselves. They would normally wean naturally after a few months or more if they had not already been taken away from their mothers a few days after birth.

Read more.

22 December 2016