A survey of management practices that influence performance and welfare of dairy calves reared in southern Brazil

Maria J. Hötzel, Cibele Longo, Lucas F. Balcão, Clarissa S. Cardoso, João H.C. Costa

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Here we report dairy calf management practices used by 242 smallholder family farmers in the South of Brazil. Data were collected via a semi-structured questionnaire with farmers, inspection of the production environment and an in-depth interview with a sample of 26 farmers. Herds had an average of 22.3 lactating cows and an average milk production of 12.7 L/cow/day. Calves were dehorned in 98% of the farms, with a hot iron in 95%. Male calves were castrated in 71% of the farms; methods were surgery (68%), emasculator (29%), or rubber rings (3%). No pain control was used for these interventions. In 51% of the farms all newborn male calves were reared, sold or donated to others; in 35% all newborn males were killed on the farm. Calves were separated from the dam up to 12 h after birth in 78% of the farms, and left to nurse colostrum from the dam without intervention in 55% of the farms. The typical amount of milk fed to calves was 4 L/day until a median age of 75 days. In 40% of the farms milk was provided in a bucket, in 49% with bottles, and in 11% calves suckled from a cow. Solid feeding in the milk-feeding period started at a median age of 10 days. Calves were housed individually in 70% of the farms; in 81% of the farms calves were housed in indoor pens, in 6% in outdoor hutches and in 13% they were kept on pasture. Diarrhoea was reported as the main cause of calf mortality in 71% of the farms. Farmers kept no records of calf disease, mortality, or use of medicines. Changing the scenario identified in this survey is essential to support the sustainable development of dairy production, an activity of great economic and social relevance for the region.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere114995
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Hötzel et al.

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