Youth and adult public views of dairy calf housing options

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Sep;103(9):8507-8517. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-17727. Epub 2020 Jul 1.


The objective of this study was to explore views on dairy calf housing options among American youth and adults. Youth views were of interest because they are future consumers, yet their influence on livestock production practices is often overlooked. Participants 5 to 17 yr of age (n = 463) and 18 yr or older (n = 1,310) completed an in-person survey at the Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul, MN) in summer 2018. The survey was administered via Qualtrics survey software (Qualtrics, Provo, UT) using iPads (Apple, Cupertino, CA) and, in addition to collecting demographics, presented 3 images of calf housing options (individual, pair, or group) and asked participants to select their preferred option and indicate their reasoning for selection (youth), or acceptance for each option and reasoning for selection (adult). The PROC SURVEYFREQ of SAS (9.4; SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC) was used for descriptive analysis. Rao-Scott chi-square tests (PROC SURVEYFREQ, SAS 9.4) were used to investigate relationships between demographics and housing preference or acceptance. Content analysis identified recurring themes to describe qualitative reasoning underlying dairy calf housing preference or acceptance. The median age of youth participants was 11 yr, 61% were female, 82% were urban residents, and 63% did not have prior experience handling agricultural animals, but 83% had visited a farm in the past. Median age range of adult participants was 45 to 54 yr, 65% were female, 82% urban residents, 41% completed a bachelor's degree, and 81% did not have prior experience handling agricultural animals, but 63% had visited a farm in the past. Overall, group housing was overwhelmingly preferred by youth participants (80.1%), followed by pair (14.3%) and individual housing (5.6%). Youth who chose group housing most commonly cited reasons related to increased socialization (71.4%) and space allowance (58.5%). Housing preference of youth was not associated with age, gender, or prior visits to a farm. However, rural youth more frequently preferred individual housing compared with urban youth (13.6 ± 4.5% SE vs. 5.1 ± 1.3%, respectively). Similarly, adult participants were most accepting of group housing for dairy calves (75.8% of participants), with reasons focused on calves' ability to socialize and access to increased space allowance. Adult males, rural residents, and individuals with previous livestock handling experience more frequently accepted individual calf housing compared with females, urban residents, and individuals without previous livestock handling experience. These findings suggest that housing systems that enable greater degrees of behavioral freedom for calves may be more socially sustainable for the dairy sector.

Keywords: adult views; calf housing preference; youth views.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dairying
  • Data Collection
  • Farms
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Minnesota
  • Rural Population
  • Seasons
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult