Gold Standards III Abridged
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Animal welfare standards for rearing dairy calves and heifers, from birth to freshening, across the United States (Printable version)


I. Veterinary Involvement

  • A practicing herd veterinarian should physically visit the operation and observe animals at least monthly.
  • The veterinarian should provide counsel, develop protocols and assist in employee training for all management areas related to animal welfare.

II. Colostrum Management

  • Follow management practices that promote high-quality maternal colostrum production.
  • Practice sanitary colostrum harvest and handling techniques.
  • Deliver colostrum at correct volume and feeding time.
  • Use a high-quality commercial colostrum replacer when necessary.
  • Esophogeal feeders only should be used by trained staff.
  • Assess colostrum program success via animal monitoring.

III. Housing

  • Provide clean, dry, well-bedded, draft-free housing with good air quality and per-animal resting space
    allocations (Holsteins):
    • Wet calves 24 hours to 60 days old – 24 square feet
    • 8 to 18 weeks – 34 square feet
    • 18 to 24 weeks – 40 square feet
    •  6 to 12 months – 45 square feet
    • 12 to 18 months – 50 square feet
    • 18 months to 2-4 weeks pre-fresh – 60 square feet
    • 2-4 weeks pre-fresh – 100 square feet
  • In free stall housing, provide one stall per animal at appropriate stall dimensions (Holsteins):
    • 6 to 9 months – 30 x 54 inches
    • 9 to 12 months – 34 x 60 inches
    • 12 to 18 months – 36 x 69 inches
    • 18 months to 2-4 weeks pre-fresh – 40 x 84 inches
    • 2-4 weeks pre-fresh – 43 x 96 inches
  • Calf housing should be constructed of material that promotes optimal hygiene and should be cleaned regularly.
  • Housing for older heifers should have a skid-free footing surface, provide feeding space to allow all animals to eat at the same time and provide proper shelter from extreme weather conditions.
  • Utilize isolation facilities to promote biosecurity.
  • In group housing of wet calves, clean and sanitize feeding equipment daily.

IV. Nutrition

  • Working with a consulting nutritionist is recommended.
  • Nutritional outcomes should meet the standards for mortality, morbidity and growth described in Gold Standards I and Gold Standards II.
  • Milk/milk replacer fed to pre-weaned calves should contain adequate nutrition to promote health and growth and be fed consistently.
  • Clean, ample, accessible water supplies should be provided to all animals starting at 1 week of age.
  • Consistently offer palatable, clean calf starter beginning at 1 week of age.
  • Wean calves when they are consuming enough starter grain – and have adequate rumen development to digest it – to meet size and growth goals.
  • Space procedures around weaning time to minimize stress.
  • Feed post-weaned heifers to gain at least 1.7-2.0 pounds per day.
  • Keep feed fresh and deliver it consistently to keep satiety levels steady.

V. Handling

  • Use gentle methods to handle all animals.
  • Minimize use of handling aids and noise levels when moving cattle.
  • Train new employees on appropriate handling procedures using written protocols; review quarterly.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse.
  • Provide extra attention to sick and/or nonambulatory animals.

VI. Transportation

  • Newborn calves should be dry, able to stand and at least 24 hours old before transporting.
  • Wash and disinfect transport vehicles and prepare floors for secure footing prior to hauling.
  • Avoid scheduling elective medical procedures and vaccinations (with the exception of intranasal vaccines) for 1 to 2 weeks before and after transport.
  • Schedule trips to be as short in length as possible, take feed and water breaks as necessary and use two drivers for trips over 11 hours. 
  • Gently load and unload cattle and provide fresh feed and water immediately upon unloading. 
  • Equip trailers with wind blocks in cold weather and use gates on trailers to separate animals into small groups.
  • When hauling baby calves, provide at least 5.5 square feet of floor space per calf and bed deeply with long straw.

VII. Vaccination

  • Work with a veterinarian to develop vaccine protocols to address local disease conditions and promote best management practices.
  • Immunity should support the standards for mortality, morbidity and growth defined in the Gold Standards I and II.
  • Store, process and administer vaccines according to manufacturer's label and best management practices.
  • Avoid vaccinating during times of stress, in extreme ambient heat or with more than two Gram-negative vaccines concurrently.
  • Keep epinephrine and flunixin readily available to treat adverse reactions.
  • Dispose of vaccine containers, needles and syringes properly.
  • Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all vaccinations.

VIII. Drug Therapy

  • Use drug therapy prescribed by the herd veterinarian to treat disease and relieve pain and suffering.
  • Develop written, on-label treatment protocols.
  • Train new employees on treatment protocols; review quarterly.
  • Follow label directions on all drugs.
  • Discard expired or contaminated drugs.
  • Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all treatments.

IX. Parasite Control

  • Develop parasite control strategies, incorporating integrated pest management practices, with the herd veterinarian and pest management specialists.
  • Follow label directions on all products.
  • Avoid using products off-label.
  • Train new employees on pest control protocols; review quarterly.
  • Inspect cattle weekly for adequacy of parasite control programs.
  • Discard expired or contaminated products, paying close attention to proper disposal of insecticides.
  • Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all treatments.

X. Elective Medical Procedures and Supportive Care

  • Work to ensure that housing, handling, treatment and restraint create the minimum possible stress and discomfort for all animals.
  • Avoid elective medical procedures during times of stress and perform them at a young age to reduce recovery time and complications.
  • Use pre-operative, local anesthetics and sedation and post-operative analgesics under direction of the herd veterinarian.
  • Train new employees on protocols; review quarterly with herd veterinarian and employees.
  • Provide supportive facilities and care to convalescing animals.
  • Seek veterinary examination when necessary.
  • Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all procedures.

XI. Euthanasia

For the complete version of Gold Standards III, click here.