Article history: Received: 12-04-2018, Accepted: 03-07-2018, Published online: 10-08-2018
Corresponding author: Emily K. Kathambi
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgCitation: Kathambi EK, Van Leeuwen JA, Gitau GK, McKenna SL (2018) Cross-sectional study of the welfare of calves raised in smallholder dairy farms in Meru, Kenya, 2017, Veterinary World, 11(8): 1094-1101.
Aim: This study was aimed at describing calf comfort and determining the individual and pen level factors that affect comfort status (in particular, calf leg hygiene scores) of smallholder dairy farms in Meru County, Kenya.
Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional study was carried out on 52 calves that were up to 1 year old in 38 dairy farms (mean±standard deviation: Herd size=1.71±0.7 milking cows and milk production=6.7±3.1 L/day) in Meru, Kenya, in 2017, with the intention to describe their comfort and determine the factors associated with leg hygiene as a critical parameter for calf comfort assessment. Calves' biodata, health status, and leg hygiene were assessed, along with pen characteristics such as area, hygiene, and knee impact and knee wetness scores, while a questionnaire was administered to the farmers to gather information regarding calf housing management practices in the farm.
Results: The calves had a mean body weight of 85.2±32.8 kg and average daily weight gain of 0.50±0.45 kg per day. 71% of calves had a good body condition score (≥2.5), and the mean space allowance per calf was 2.52±1.56 m2. Approximately 75% of the calves (39/52) were kept in pens, and the rest were reared outdoors. For 39 calves kept indoors, 26% (10/39) of them had wooden or concrete floors while 74% (29/39) had dirt floors. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of indoor calves (26/39) were reared in pens with bedding, and 23% (9/39) and 33% (13/39) of the calves reared indoors were kept in pens displaying a failed knee impact test and failed knee wetness test. Indoor housed calves had an increased probability of having dirty calf legs (cleanliness score of >2.5) by 8.6 times (p=0.031), compared to outdoor-housed calves. In the final multivariable logistic regression model of 39 calves in pens, concrete or wood floors (odds ratio [OR]=7.9, p=0.047), poor body condition (OR=17.1, p=0.020) and use of bedding (OR=12.5, p=0.046) appeared to be positively correlated with dirtiness of calf legs, compared to dirt floors, good body condition, and no bedding, respectively.
Conclusion: Overall, some calf comfort aspects were covered for the majority of calves examined, but 69% of the pens were categorized as dirty, especially those with wooden or concrete floors and poor bedding management. Smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya should be trained on calf housing management to improve calf comfort and productivity.
Keywords: calf comfort, calf hygiene, dairy calves, Kenya.
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