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Dairy farmers' perspectives on providing cow-calf contact in the pasture-based systems of New Zealand

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posted on 2023-05-03, 22:19 authored by Heather Neave, Christine Sumner, Roxanne HenwoodRoxanne Henwood, Gosia Zobel, Katie Saunders, Helen Thoday, Trevor WatsonTrevor Watson, Jim WebsterJim Webster
Separation of the cow and calf shortly after birth is a common practice on commercial dairy farms around the world, but there are emerging concerns about this practice among citizens and other stakeholders. Continuous improvement of on-farm management practices in collaboration with dairy sector stakeholders increases the likelihood that farming systems evolve in a way that is consistent with societal expectations. Few commercial dairy farms provide extended cow-calf contact, and there is little understanding of how dairy farmers view this practice. This study examined the views of New Zealand dairy farmers toward providing cow-calf contact, particularly the barriers to adopting such a system in a seasonal-calving pasture-based dairy system. Standard farm practice in New Zealand is to remove the calf from the cow around 24 h (but could be up to 48 h) after birth. These conventional farmers (n = 63) were randomly selected from the database of all dairy farmers in New Zealand and telephone-interviewed using a semistructured interview format. Their responses to questions about providing cow-calf contact (defined as contact beyond the standard practice of 48 h) were analyzed using thematic analysis. Three major themes of concern were identified by these farmers about providing cow-calf contact as follows: (1) poor animal welfare, especially the risk of mastitis in the dam, inadequate colostrum for the calf, increased stress from delayed separation, and lack of shelter for calves while outdoors with the cow; (2) increased labor and stress on staff; and (3) system-level changes required, including infrastructure and herd management. Many of these concerns stemmed from challenges related to the nature of large-scale seasonal-calving pasture-based dairy systems, where a large number of calves are born in a short period of time and may be exposed to inclement weather in late winter in some areas. Several small-scale farmers (n = 4) providing cow-calf contact for longer than standard practice of 48 h were also interviewed; all permitted contact for at least 4 wk. These farmers also felt that animal welfare and health were important, and that this was promoted in their cow-calf contact systems. Concerns about colostrum and mastitis, for example, were not raised by these farmers, but they did agree that additional infrastructure and shelter were important considerations for cow-calf contact systems. Some conventional farmers expressed cognitive dissonance in that they theoretically preferred cow-calf contact but could not see it being realistic or practical to implement. Farmers currently providing longer cow-calf contact may be a useful resource for better understanding of how practical and economical cow-calf contact systems could be adopted on commercial pastoral dairy farms.


Rights statement

© 2022, The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. and Fass Inc. on behalf of the American Dairy Science Association®. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Journal of Dairy Science




Neave, H. W., Sumner, C. L., Henwood, R. J. T., Zobel, G., Saunders, K., Thoday, H., Watson, T., & Webster, J. R. (2022). Dairy farmers’ perspectives on providing cow-calf contact in the pasture-based systems of New Zealand. Journal of Dairy Science, 105(1), 453–467.

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