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Guide to cross compliance in England: 2016

Rural Payments Agency
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SMR 11: Welfare of calves

You must protect the welfare of calves (bovine animals up to six months old) by meeting minimum standards for their care and husbandry.

What you must do

You must also meet the rules for the welfare of farmed animals in SMR13. You must:

  • inspect all housed calves at least twice a day, and those kept outside at least once a day to check they are in a state of well-being. Any calf which appears to be ill or injured must be cared for appropriately without delay, and veterinary advice must be obtained as soon as possible for any calf which is not responding to the stock-keeper’s care. Where necessary, sick or injured calves must be isolated in adequate accommodation with dry, comfortable bedding
  • make sure that the accommodation for calves is constructed in such a way as to allow each of your calves to stand up, turn around, lie down, rest and groom itself without difficulty
  • ensure that materials used for the construction of calf accommodation, and in particular of boxes and equipment with which calves may come into contact, must not be harmful to the calves and must be capable of being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected
  • ensure that electrical circuits and equipment are installed in accordance with current national rules so as to avoid electric shocks
  • provide insulation, heating and ventilation of the building to ensure that air circulation, dust level, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentrations are kept within limits which are not harmful to the calves
  • inspect all automated or mechanical equipment essential for the calves’ health and well-being at least once daily. Where defects are discovered, they must be rectified immediately; or, if this is impossible, appropriate steps must be taken to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the calves until the defect has been rectified, notably by using alternative methods of feeding and maintaining a satisfactory environment.
  • provide an appropriate back-up system where an artificial ventilation system is used, to guarantee sufficient air renewal to preserve the health and well-being of the calves in the event of failure of the artificial ventilation system and an alarm system (which will operate even if the principal electricity supply to it has failed) must be provided to give warning of any failure to the system. The alarm system must be tested regularly
  • ensure that feeding and watering equipment is designed, constructed, placed and maintained so that contamination of the calves’ feed and water is minimised
  • make sure that individual stalls or pens:
    • meet the minimum width (at least equal to the height of the calf at the withers, when measured in the standing position)
    • meet the minimum length (at least equal to the body length of the calf, measured from the tip of the nose to the rear of the pin bone (tuber ischii) multiplied by 1.1)
    • have perforated walls which allow the calves to see and have physical contact with one another (this does not apply to sick animals being isolated)
  • make sure that when kept in a group, each calf has its own minimum allowance of free floor space, as in the following table.
Live weight of calf Minimum amount of unobstructed floor space
Less than 150 kg At least 1.5 square metres
Between 150 and 200 kg At least 2 square metres
200 kg or more At least 3 square metres
  • provide flooring for calves in buildings that is:
    • smooth, but not slippery
    • designed, constructed and maintained so there’s no injury or suffering to calves standing or lying on it
    • suitable for the size and weight of the calves
    • forms a rigid, even and stable surface.
  • keep all housed calves on, or at all times give them access to, a clean, comfortable, adequately drained lying area which does not adversely affect the calves
  • give all calves less than 2 weeks old suitable bedding
  • provide artificial lighting for calves kept in an artificially lit building, for as long as they would otherwise have natural light available between 9am and 5pm. In addition, suitable lighting, fixed or portable and strong enough to allow the calves to be inspected at any time, must be available
  • properly clean and disinfect calf housing, stalls, pens, utensils and equipment used for calves as often as necessary to prevent cross-infection and the build-up of disease-carrying organisms; and remove dung, urine and uneaten or spilt food as often as necessary to minimise smells and avoid attracting flies or rodents
  • feed all weaned calves at least twice a day
  • make sure when feeding group-housed calves that one of the following applies for each calf:
    • can feed at the same time as the others in the feeding group
    • has continuous access to food
    • is fed by an automatic feeding system
  • make sure all calves have access to a sufficient quantity of fresh water.
  • provide your calves with fresh drinking water at all times in hot weather conditions or when they are ill
  • provide all calves with an appropriate diet adapted to their age, weight and behavioural and physiological needs, to promote good health and welfare. Give all calves food that contains enough iron to keep an average blood haemoglobin level of 4.5 mmol/litre
  • provide the set minimum daily ration of fibrous food for each calf over 2 weeks old. The minimum daily fibrous food ration rises in line with the growth of the calf; starting at a minimum of 100g at 2 weeks old and rising to a minimum of 250g at 20 weeks
  • make sure that each calf gets bovine colostrum as soon as possible after it’s born and in any case within the first 6 hours of life.

You must not:

  • tether your calves or cause them to be tethered
  • muzzle your calves
  • keep a calf in an individual stall or pen after the age of 8 weeks (unless a veterinary surgeon has certified its health requires it to receive treatment).

You won’t break the rule about tethering calves if the tethers are put on to group-housed calves, for up to 1 hour, when you are feeding them milk or milk substitute.

Any tether must be regularly inspected and adjusted as necessary to ensure a comfortable fit. Each tether mustn’t cause pain or injury to the calf, must be designed to avoid the risk of strangulation, pain or injury and allow it to lie down, rest, stand up and groom itself without difficulty.

More information

You can find more information about the welfare of calves in the ‘Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle’.


Animal and Plant Health Agency: 03000 200 301
Rural Payments Agency: 03000 200 301
Defra helpline: 0345 933 557