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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Research Project #445555

Research Project: PARTNERSHIP: Characterizing formula-fed veal and dairy beef calf welfare through audits and industry engagement

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Project Number: 5020-32000-014-010-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Dec 6, 2023
End Date: May 31, 2028

The objectives of this research are three-fold: 1) assess animal-based measures of surplus calf welfare and risk factors for morbidity and mortality during the production period, 2) characterize antemortem/postmortem animal-based measures of surplus calf welfare and risk factors for reduced value at slaughter, and 3) determine if benchmarking animal-based measures influences producer attitudes, management practices, and calf welfare outcomes.

To reach Objective 1, a multi-level, observational study design will be used to estimate the prevalence of suboptimal health outcomes and painful conditions in formula-fed veal and dairy-beef calves on arrival and 1, 5, 10, and 20 weeks after arrival to commercial calf-raising facilities. Animal health and welfare assessments will be performed on 65 calves across 28 farms per visit, and facility, housing, and management-based measures will be taken to identify risk factors for the animal-based measures described. To reach Objective 2, we will conduct a cross-sectional observational study and leverage relationships with 5-7 slaughter establishments to survey antemortem/postmortem animal-based measures of welfare. We will perform visual assessments on formula-fed veal and dairy-beef animals on arrival at the slaughter establishment; animal-based measures will be consistent with the assessments performed in Objective 1. Postmortem measures will include liver abscess severity; gastrointestinal health disorders; the presence of trichobezoars and abomasal lesions in the pyloric area; signs of respiratory disorders; bruise severity; and injection-site lesions. To reach Objective 3, we will use a farm-level, randomized field trial study design and enroll all farms from Objective 1. Calf raisers will be block randomized by pre-intervention animal-based welfare indicators and herd size to receive (intervention) or not receive (control) the producer consultation and benchmarking reports. After Objectives 1 and 2 have been completed, the prevalence of animal-based outcomes will be calculated per farm to produce a series of benchmarking reports. Producers allocated to the intervention group will receive individualized reports that summarize the prevalence of each animal-based measure on their farm and how they compare to the other farms enrolled. Animal-based welfare outcomes and harvest-floor assessments that affect the quality and value of surplus calves, carcasses, and by-products will be collated. One industry-level report will be provided to each producer, with aggregated data for their respective industries (veal or dairy-beef). The research team will then return to all farms enrolled in Objective 1 approximately 6 months following the delivery of the benchmarking reports to reassess the same animal- and management-based measures in Objective 1. The Cooperator will provide expertise in epidemiologic study design and data analysis for Objectives 1 and 3. Additionally, the Cooperator will assist ARS in identifying slaughter establishments across the Midwest, as well as characterizing antemortem and postmortem indicators of surplus calf welfare at slaughter.