Effects of the novel concept 'outdoor veal calf' on antimicrobial use, mortality and weight gain in Switzerland
Preventive Veterinary Medicine
The aim of the intervention study 'outdoor veal calf' was to evaluate a novel concept for calf fattening which aimed at reducing antimicrobial use without compromising animal health. Management practices such as commingling of calves from multiple birth farms, crowding, and suboptimal barn climate are responsible for high antimicrobial use and mortality in the veal calf population. The risk of selecting bacteria resistant to antimicrobials and of economic losses is accordingly elevated. The
... y elevated. The 'outdoor veal calf' concept, implemented in nineteen intervention farms (IF), is based on three main measures: 1. purchased calves are transported directly from neighboring birth farms to the fattening facility instead of commingling calves in livestock dealer trucks; 2. each calf is vaccinated against pneumonia after arrival and completes a three-week quarantine in an individual hutch; and 3. the calves spend the rest of the fattening period in outdoor hutches in groups not exceeding 10 calves. The covered and bedded paddock and the group hutches provide shelter from cold weather and direct sunshine, constant access to fresh air is warranted. Nineteen conventional calf fattening operations of similar size served as controls (CF). Every farm was visited once a month for a one-year period, and data regarding animal health, treatments, and production parameters were collected. Treatment intensity was assessed by use of the defined daily dose method (TIDDD in days per animal year), and calf mortality and daily weight gain were recorded in both farm groups. Mean TIDDD was 5.3-fold lower in IF compared to CF (5.9 ± 6.5 vs. 31.5 ± 27.4 days per animal year; p < 0.001). Mortality was 2.1-fold lower in IF than in CF (3.1% ± 2.3 vs. 6.3 % ± 4.9; p = 0.020). Average daily gain did not differ between groups (1.29 ± 0.17 kg/day in IF vs. 1.35 ± 0.16 kg/day in CF; p = 0.244). A drastic reduction in antimicrobial use and mortality was achieved in the novel 'outdoor veal calf' system without compromising animal health. The principles of risk reduction used in designing the system can be used to improve management and animal health, decrease the need for antimicrobial treatments and thus selection pressure on bacteria in veal operations.