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A survey of calf management practices and farmer perceptions of calf housing in UK dairy herds

Mahendran, Sophie; Wathes, Claire; Booth, Richard; Blackie, Nicola


Sophie Mahendran

Claire Wathes

Richard Booth

Nicola Blackie


Adoption of optimal management techniques for rearing dairy calves has significant impacts on their health, welfare and productivity. Despite much published literature on best practice, calf morbidity and mortality rates remain high. This survey aimed to establish current calf management practices in the UK, along with farmer perceptions surrounding different housing types. A survey containing 48 questions was distributed online to UK farmers via social media, online forums and via a convenience sample of veterinary practices, and was completed by 216 participants. A descriptive analysis with frequency distributions was calculated, with chi-squared tests, linear regression and multinomial regression performed to assess associations between variables. There was a low level of regular veterinary involvement in day-to-day health decision making for calves (3/216, 1.4%), highlighting the need for appropriate staff training and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure prudent antimicrobial usage. Restricted calf milk feeding is still highly prevalent in the UK, with most calves fed milk replacer (114/216, 52.8%), twice daily (189/216, 87.5%), initially given at 4L of milk per day (66/216, 30.6%) or 6L of milk per day (47/216, 21.8%). There was, however, a small number of farmers initially feeding only 2-3L per day (28/216, 13.0%). Euthanasia of bull calves (5/216, 2.3%) and feeding antimicrobial waste milk to calves (8/216, 3.7%) both occurred on some farms. With regard to housing, use of individual calf pens has reduced from around 60% in 2010 to 38.4% in this study (83/216), with this reduction being partly driven by the policy of UK milk buyers. Farmer perceptions indicated that individual housing was thought to help to improve calf health and feed monitoring of calves, suggesting that successful use of group housing requires a higher level of stockmanship. The majority of farmers did not provide fresh bedding to calves on a daily basis (141/216, 65.3%), and relatively few disinfected both the calf housing (38.0%) and ground (47.7%) between calves. These results suggest that poor hygiene is likely to have a negative impact on calf enteric health.


Mahendran, S., Wathes, C., Booth, R., & Blackie, N. (2021). A survey of calf management practices and farmer perceptions of calf housing in UK dairy herds. Journal of Dairy Science,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 15, 2021
Publication Date Nov 8, 2021
Deposit Date Apr 21, 2021
Publicly Available Date Nov 8, 2022
Print ISSN 0022-0302
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL