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Osawe OW;L├Ąpple D;Hanlon A;Boyle L;
Journal Of Dairy Science
Exploring farmers' attitudes and determinants of dairy calf welfare in an expanding dairy sector.
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The 2015 European Union milk quota abolition initiated considerable expansion in the dairy sector in many European Union countries, most significantly in Ireland. However, this major production increase also had wider societal implications, such as negative environmental and animal welfare consequences. In this article, we used survey data of 441 Irish dairy farmers to assess farmers' attitudes toward the welfare of farmed animals and dairy calves, as well as the reputation of the Irish dairy sector. We also explored how expansion, breeding, calf management, and farmer characteristics relate to calf welfare outcomes (i.e., calf mortality, calf export, and premature culling). In relation to attitudes, farmers expressed a general concern toward animal welfare, while views toward dairy calves and industry reputation were mixed. We used Ward's linkage hierarchical cluster analysis to group farmers based on their attitudes. The cluster analysis revealed 3 distinct groups relating to high, medium, and low animal welfare concern. Herd expansion was negatively associated with being in a higher animal welfare concern cluster, whereas beef trait-focused breeding was positively associated with it. In relation to dairy calf welfare outcomes, our econometric analyses based on multiple regression and binary choice models revealed that expansion was positively associated with calf mortality, whereas improved breeding and calf management factors had a negative association. In addition, being in the high animal welfare concern cluster was negatively associated with calf mortality. Furthermore, breeding decisions were significantly associated with whether calves were exported, and being in the high animal welfare concern cluster was negatively associated with the probability that calves were sent for live export. Finally, farmers' breeding and calf management decisions were associated with premature culling of calves. Overall, this article revealed strategies worth promoting to improve dairy calf welfare, such as beef trait-focused breeding leading to greater dairy-beef integration.
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