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Public attitude towards cow-calf separation and other common practices of calf rearing in dairy farming - a review

Public demand for food produced in systems with high animal welfare standards is rising. In terms of animal welfare, the dairy industry has a positive reputation in European countries. However, there are many practices in the dairy industry of which the public is unaware, e.g., zero-grazing, tethering, dehorning, disposal of male calves, and early cow-calf separation. We focused on the latter and reviewed studies addressing public opinions about dealing with calves in dairy farming. We show that most respondents in studies are unaware or reject these practices. During the last years more and more attention was paid to cow-calf separation. This practice is mainly rejected because it is considered to be unnatural and associated with stress for the animals. However, there is a lack of scientific surveys that explore the public opinion about how much stress is tolerable in animals that have been allowed to live up to their needs for a period of time. On the other hand, the economic aspects of management practices enabling the animals to express their natural behavior to a greater extent than in the current husbandry systems should be investigated comprehensively. The amount of sales and the willingness to pay a higher price for milk and meat produced in such systems might be the key factors to a wider acceptance of such systems by dairy farmers, who will expect to be compensated for their increased efforts.

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