If you’re “listening” with your eyes, sick calves can clearly communicate that they are not feeling well, according to Amy Stanton, assistant professor and animal well-being specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

Stanton says the most common “sickness behaviors” exhibited by calves include:

  1. Smaller flight zone – Sick calves will not instantly get up or move when a human approaches them, and need more encouragement to get up.
  2. Less interest in people – Calves that receive their milk from people should display an eagerness to interact with a person who approaches them.  Stanton’s research has shown that calves who fail to take at least one step forward in the first 30 seconds after a person approaches its pen are more likely to be ill.
  3. Posture changes – Standing with an arched back and tucked-in tail for at least 60 seconds after it has risen, stretched and urinated is a demonstration of physical discomfort. 

The researcher adds that calf behaviors should be observed when calves are relaxed.  If they are startled or frightened, their survival instincts will over-ride their feelings of sickness and make ill calves more difficult to detect.  Watching for these signs every day will help to identify disease incidence early so treatment and supportive therapy can be delivered promptly and effectively.