Welfare of vealer calves


Ratification Date: 01 Jan 1997


Vealer calves must be raised under conditions that maintain the welfare of the animals. This includes appropriate nutrition, housing, disease prevention, veterinary care and measures to reduce stress.


A vealer calf is a calf that is reared for the purpose of slaughter for human consumption at less than six months of age. Vealer calves are fed extra concentrates to improve carcase weight and are usually housed intensively.


General welfare

It is essential to minimise stress and disease in vealer calves whether they are reared on the farm of origin or purchased through saleyards. Calves purchased from saleyards are very susceptible to stress-induced diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery. It is therefore recommended that calves are purchased directly from their farm of origin.

Calves should travel as short a distance as possible, with maximum care being taken with transport and handling. They should be slaughtered at a site located within a reasonable distance of the production unit.


Calves should receive at least two litres of fresh or preserved colostrum within the first 12 hours after birth. Thereafter, calves should be fed at least once daily on liquid milk, commercial milk replacer or colostrum in sufficient quantities to provide essential requirements for maintenance and growth. Access to roughage is necessary from a day or two after birth to allow rumen development.

Calves must not be fed an iron-deficient diet. Apart from causing anaemia in the calves, deficient diets are not necessary or desirable for good meat colour. Available evidence indicates that a diet containing 30 mg/kg of iron in the dry matter provides sufficient iron to prevent anaemia, while the meat colour remains pale.

Shedded animals should receive fat-soluble vitamins (A, D and E), since they have no access to pasture or sunlight. For the wellbeing of the calf, suitable fibrous food should be provided, especially after four weeks of age, to allow rumination to develop.


Calves should be housed in well-ventilated and well-lit surroundings. An acceptable light intensity is 216 lux or natural daylight. The light/dark time ratio should be ideally 50:50, although increasing the light periods will increase feed intake and growth rate in the calves.

The optimal ambient temperature for housed calves is 20°C. An acceptable temperature range is 20–25°C.

Ventilation depends on the type of shed, but it should be sufficient to maintain temperature and humidity and remove potentially toxic products, such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and airborne microorganisms.

Ideally, calves should be housed in groups rather than individually. They must be able to see, hear, smell and touch other calves and have relative freedom of movement. Veterinary supervision of the rearing of calves in group housing is essential. Short-term individual housing of calves is preferable when calves are first introduced into the vealer unit, to minimise disease spread.

A calf must have room to stand, lie down and adopt a comfortable sleeping posture on a dry floor. In a group pen, the size of the pen to be used depends on the weight of the individual calves.

Guidelines for housing calves in group pens
Calf weight (kg) Minimum pen floor area (m2) Minimum pen floor length (m) Feeder space per head (m)
< 60 2.0 1.1 0.3
60-100 2.2 1.8 0.3
100-150 2.4 1.8 0.35
150-200 2.5 2.0 0.4

Strict attention is required when planning correct flooring for housing of calves. The best flooring is raised wire mesh, with sufficient clearance to allow regular cleaning without unduly wetting the calves. Concrete flooring and sawdust are not recommended due to lack of hygiene.

Prevention and treatment of disease

There should be minimal mixing of calves of different age groups, to prevent the spread of infection from older calves to younger calves or the introduction of disease from newly acquired animals.

Diarrhoea is a common complaint of housed calves. Shed design can predispose animals to infection. Diarrhoea must be treated appropriately as soon as it occurs. Pneumonia is also common in calf groups undergoing stress.

A competent stockperson, capable of early diagnosis and treatment of disease, must supervise the operation. Due care must be taken to avoid antibiotic residues in the meat of treated calves.

Date of ratification by AVA Board 1 January 1997