EURCAW Ruminants & Equines has published two factsheets which deal with visual and tactile contact in individually housed calves.
Council Directive 2008/119/EC of 18 December 2008, laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves, states that calves older than 8 weeks must not be housed individually. Further, individual pens for calves (except those for isolating sick animals) must not have solid walls, but perforated walls which allow the calves to have direct visual and tactile contact.
EURCAW Ruminants & Equines’ thematic factsheet on visual and tactile contact in individually housed calves sets out the biology and needs of calves. It has been shown that dairy calves are motivated for social contact during the first 8 weeks of life. During an experimental setup, it was demonstrated that calves are more motivated (i.e. they work harder) for unrestricted social contact with a conspecific than for contact with the conspecific’s head through metal bars only. Further, there is evidence that social isolation during infancy is associated with abnormal behaviour and developmental problems, which is why social contact in early life is key to normal development.
The thematic factsheet then goes on to outline focus areas for inspection – structural features of pens or hutches for individually housing calves can be used as proxies for assessing the level of visual and tactile contact allowed between animals. Finally, the legal requirements pertaining to the individual housing of calves are set out.
EURCAW Ruminants & Equines’ indicator factsheet on visual and tactile contact in individually housed calves outlines five categories that can be used to classify the levels of restriction of visual and tactile contact: Level 1 – none, 2 – slight, 3 – moderate, 4 – strong, and 5 – complete restriction. From a welfare point of view, visual and tactile contact should not be restricted beyond level 3 – moderate restriction. At this level it is acknowledged that an animal has to put some effort into initiating contact, however, no constraining body posture, pain or distress is experienced by the calf. A description of each level of restriction of both visual and tactile contact is given together with a photographic example. In addition, recommendations are given as to how inspectors should go about assessing the level of restriction of visual and tactile contact for calves housed in pens or hutches.
Source 1: Thematic Factsheet: Visual and tactile contact in individually housed calves, EURCAW Ruminants & Equines, 2022
Source 2: Indicator Factsheet: Visual and tactile contact in individually housed calves, EURCAW Ruminants & Equines, 2022