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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Research Project #445556

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

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Project Number: 5020-32000-014-011-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Dec 1, 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 (14 farm in Indiana/Ohio, 14 farms in Wisconsin) per visit, and facility, housing, and management-based measures will be taken to identify management-based measures that are risk factors for the animal-based measures described, facility, housing, and management measures will be taken. 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. For Objectives 1 and 3, the Cooperator will assist with data collection across commercial calf-raising facilities in Wisconsin. Data collection (in Wisconsin) will be performed in parallel with ARS (in Indiana/Ohio); utilizing commercial calf-rearing facilities in both Indiana/Ohio and Wisconsin will provide a robust population of surplus calves in the Midwest and Northeastern U.S. The Cooperator will serve as the primary advisor for the graduate student and post doc. Cooperator duties also include supervision of data collection in Wisconsin, preparation of manuscripts, and dissemination of results.