Strategies for keeping dairy cows and calves together – a cross-sectional survey study

H.Erikssona N.Fallb S.Ivemeyerc U.Knierimc C.Simantkec B.Fuerst-Waltld C.Wincklerd R.Weissensteinerd D.Pomièse B.Martine  A.MichaudeA.Priolof M.Caccamog T.Sakowskih M.Stachelekh A.Spengler Neffi A.Bieberi C.Schneideri K.Alvåsenb
aSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
bSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
cUniversity of Kassel, Faculty of Organic Agriculture, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany
dUniversity of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Institute of Livestock Sciences, 1180 Vienna, Austria
eUniversity of Clermont Auvergne, INRAE, VetAgro Sup, UMR Herbivores, 63122 St-Genès-Champanelle, France
fUniversity of Catania, Department of Agricultural and Food Science, 95123 Catania, Italy
gConsorzio per la Ricerca nel settore della Filiera Lattiero – Casearia e dell’agroalimentare, 97100 Ragusa, Italy
hInstitute of Genetics and Animal Biotechnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Jastrzębiec, 05-552 Magdalenka, Poland
iResearch Institute of Organic Agriculture, Department of Livestock Sciences, 5070 Frick, Switzerland

Although it is still most common to rear dairy calves separately from adult cattle, the interest in prolonged contact between dairy calves and lactating cows during early life is increasing. Previous research has documented positive effects of cow-calf contact (CCC) on for example early calf growth and udder health of suckled cows, but also negative effects such as increased separation distress and reduced weight gains after weaning. The aim of this study was to use information from European farms with prolonged cow-calf contact to identify innovative solutions to common challenges for CCC farms. Commercial dairy farms that kept calves with adult lactating cows for seven days or more after birth were invited to participate, and interviews were performed with 104 farmers from six countries. During interviews, information about farm management, calf rearing, farmers’ perception of animal health on their farm, and farmers’ drivers and barriers for implementing CCC were collected. We found that CCC was practised in a large variety of housing and management systems, and that calves could be reared together with their dam, with foster cows, or using a combination of the two. The contact period varied considerably (7–305 days) between farms and about 25% of the farms manually milk fed the calves during parts of the milk feeding period. Daily contact time varied between farms, from 30 minutes per day to permanent contact except at milking. Behaviours indicative of separation distress, most commonly vocalisation in cows and calves, were reported by 87% of the farmers. Strategies to alleviate separation distress, for example simultaneous gradual weaning and separation, were used on some farms. Building constraints were most often mentioned as a barrier for implementing CCC. Our findings suggest that CCC is practised in a variety of commonly used husbandry systems. Reported challenges were primarily related to weaning and separation, and to building constraints; these aspects should be areas of future research.

    Keywords: Calf rearing, Cow-calf contact, Farmer attitudes, Health, Management

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    Karin Alvåsen

    Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden.