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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public perceptions of dairy cow-calf management systems differing in type of social and maternal contact Sirovica, Lara Victoria


Early cow-calf separation followed by individual housing is standard practice for calf rearing on dairy farms. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that as awareness grows the public will oppose these practices, which could compromise the dairy industry’s social license. Despite disagreement amongst different stakeholders over weighting and evaluations of effects of early separation (e.g. distress response, disease risk), recent reviews suggest there is little biological evidence supporting this practice. The acceptability of alternative cow-calf management systems differing in type of social and maternal contact is unknown. This thesis used a mixed methods online survey with a convenience sample of 307 Canadians to investigate perceptions of these systems, examining the effects of providing social or foster cow contact following early separation or not separating cow-calf pairs. Attitudes and perceptions of animal welfare were less negative (assessed on a 7-point scale where 1 is most negative, 7 is most positive, and 4 is a neutral midpoint) towards the system where calves were not separated from the cow (4.3 ± 0.30; 4.2 ± 0.28), compared to systems in which the calf was separated and individually housed (2.0 ± 0.29; 2.0 ± 0.27 ), separated and group housed (2.4 ± 0.31; 2.1 ± 0.29), or separated and kept with a foster cow (2.2 ± 0.29; 2.0 ± 0.27) (F₃,₂₉₃ = 43.97, P < 0.0001; F₃,₂₉₃ = 52.14, P < 0.0001). Participants were consistent in their scores of overall attitude to the system and scores in relation to individual aspects of cow and calf welfare (i.e. health, feelings, naturalness, standard of care), suggesting that participants took a holistic and value-oriented approach to the issue of cow-calf management regarding separation and the welfare issues. These results, in combination with many participants’ concern for the importance of the mother cow-calf relationship and perceptions that severing of this bond was a breach of standard of care, suggest that there may be low acceptance of any cow-calf management system involving early separation; any compromises that involve early separation of cow and calf are thus unlikely to resonate with underlying values.

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