Among other things, multiple farms of origin, "crowding" and the stable climate were identified as disruptive factors for the health of the calves at the beginning of fattening. The Swiss concept relies on short transport routes to reduce antimicrobial use and produce healthier calves. Calves are to be purchased directly from nearby farms without middlemen. After arrival, each calf is vaccinated against pneumonia (Parainfluenz-3, Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and remains in an individual hutch for a three-week quarantine period. For the rest of the fattening period the calves are kept in small groups of no more than 10 animals with covered and littered outdoor runs.
The Swiss veal calves are sold at the age of 4 weeks from their birth farm to the fattening farm; at this age the immune system is not yet fully developed. Therefore, at this age it is important to keep the stress on the animals low and also the infection pressure. The outdoor veal calf project only allows the animals to be transported to the fattening farm after they have passed a health check. They are examined with regard to their general condition, nasal discharge, cough, signs of diarrhoea, swollen joints or a swollen navel. Only if these points remain without findings may the calves be transported (in small groups, from the fattener himself, directly to the fattening farm without loading additional animals). The amount of colostrum consumed by the calves in the first 3 (2 litres) and 8 (4 litres) hours of their lives is also requested from the seller of the calves prior to purchase and is a criterion for entering the programme.
By implementing the strict guidelines, an observed five-fold reduction of treatment and drastic reduction of mortality was achieved during the trial period.
Source: Becker et al. 2020. Effects of the novel concept ‘outdoor veal calf’ on antimicrobial use, mortality and weight gain in Switzerland. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 176, 104907 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167587719304246)
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