A study was made of the behaviour of young calves at two Scottish auction markets, Lanark and Stirling, and an experiment was conducted to assess the effect of an auction market on the behaviour of calves less than 1 week old.
Several features of the marketing procedure were identified as causing the calves distress, mainly because the calves were unable to lie down and rest. Crowding of calves in the pens, movement to different pens, and penning of very young calves with older calves were the three main reasons why calves could not rest. The older calves (approx. > 10 weeks) were more active, running and jumping around the pens and disturbing the very young animals which stood up in response to being trodden on.
Crowding was severe in some pens although there was no clear evidence to show that small groups of calves (6 to 10 calves) in small pens rested more than calves in large groups (20 to 50 calves) in larger pens.
Calves showed their distress initially by calling loudly, looking wildly around their new environment and sometimes by running around the pen and calling. As time passed behavioural signs of distress were less prominent and calves assumed a ‘depressed’ posture with their heads low, ears held back, tails clamped down and with their weight distributed more on their hindlegs than on their forelegs.
Calves subjected to an experimental market showed similar signs of distress to those calves in the real markets, whereas control calves rested for more than 0·74 of the same time. Experimental calves which were subjected to a journey of 2.5 h were less easily disturbed from the lying posture at the experimental market than calves which had undergone a journey of 15 min only.