Calf pens, designed for calf comfort and welfare, may seem an unlikely source of cross-compliance breaches, but according to DEFRA many current pens may be inadequate to meet the animal welfare requirements rules.
To comply with cross-compliance regulations, all calves must have physical and visual contact with another calf. However, many single-calf pens designed with solid sides will fail to meet these requirements, unless changes are made to their structures.
According to the 2007 Supplement to the Cross Compliance Handbook issued last month, keeping calves in open-fronted pens with solid sides will not satisfy the rules. Individual stalls or pens for calves, except those isolating sick animals, must have perforated walls.
And while the handbook makes no direct reference to calf hutches, Momenta cross-compliance consultant Simon Draper says these could cause problems, too.
“Where calves are kept individually in hutches these should be placed close enough together and with sufficient outside area to allow calves to see and touch each other. Calves kept in hutches in pairs will be fine, but farmers should check the space requirement – of 1.5sq m a calf for calves less than 150kg and 2sq m for calves between 150kg and 200kg – can be met.”
To ensure solid-sided pens are compliant, Mr Draper suggests they should have holes made in them to allow calves to see through them or touch each other. “But farmers will need to make the edges of any holes smooth to avoid calves injuring themselves, as this could cause further cross-compliance breaches.
“Alternatively, pens could be combined to allow two or more calves to be kept together and have direct physical and visual contact with each other.
While the rules may be aimed at improving calf welfare, independent vet consultant Tony Andrews suggests in some cases the requirement for perforated sides to pens may actually compromise calf health.
“In the first few weeks of life when they are developing their own immune systems calves are extemely vulnerable to infection, so keeping them separate can help reduce the risk of disease spreading between calves.
“Where calves have had insufficient colostrum it is highly possible they will pick up infection in a building, so preventing them from having direct contact with other calves is the best way of limiting spread of infection.”
Additionally, preventing calves from having contact with others early in life helps reduce the incidence of habits such as navel sucking, which can also bring significant welfare problems, he says. “Also, where pen sides have bars there is a chance calves can trap their legs and break them, causing further welfare problems.”