Dairy calf welfare concerns are growing and new evidence suggests that the early life environment influences appropriate physical, behavioral, and cognitive development lasting into adulthood. This review highlights key evidence for the impacts of housing, diets, and painful procedures on calf welfare. We argue that these topics are currently critical welfare concerns, but are not the only points of concern. In addition to environmental requirements to maintain optimal health, dairy calves experience other challenges including social and nutritional restrictions. Individual housing is associated with impaired behavioral development and cognitive ability. Pair and group housing can mitigate some of these negative effects and should be encouraged. Restrictive milk allowances (<15% of body weight) lead to poor growth and hunger; these welfare concerns can be addressed with proper enhanced milk allowances and gradual weaning programs. Finally, dehorning is a critical animal welfare issue when pain control is withheld; calves show negative behavioral, physiological, and emotional responses during and after dehorning. The combined use of local anaesthetics and analgesics can mitigate these effects. An industry shift toward providing social companionship, enhanced milk allowances, and pain control during painful procedures would help to improve the welfare of dairy calves in intensive commercial rearing facilities.
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