Conference proceedings article
Short and long term effects of free and half-day contact between dairy cows and their calves

Publication Details
Zipp, K.; Rzehak, Y.; Knierim, U.
Jensen, Margit Bak; Herskin, Mette S.; Malmkvist, Jens
Aarhus, Denmark
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Proceedings of the 51st Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology - Understanding animal behaviour


In dam rearing systems dairy cows nurse their calves and are additionally milked. The
consequent loss of sellable milk is likely affected by the daily duration of
cow-calf-contact. The influence of three different calf rearing systems on
machine milk yield and content, calf and heifer development were investigated
in German Black Pied dairy cows: ‘free’ (24 h, n=13), ‘half-day’ (6:45–18:00 h,
n=11) and no contact (‘control’, n=14) with the dam during the first nine weeks
of life. ‘Control’ calves were separated from the dam after birth and fed max.
2x3 L/d whole milk with nipple buckets. All cows were milked twice daily.
During the 10th week of life, dam reared calves were separated from
the cows, trained to drink from nipple buckets and fed as ‘control’ calves. All
calves were gradually weaned until the 13th week of life. Due to
missing weighings and as male calves were sold after the 10th week sample size
varied. Machine gained milk yield of dams during the suckling period was
significantly lower than in ‘controls’ (‘free’: 8.5±2.9, ‘half-day’: 12.2±4.6
vs. 22.1±4.4 kg/d, mixed effects model, p<0.05). ‘Half-day’ cows had in
tendency (p=0.0758) higher daily milk yields than ‘free’ cows. This was also
true for the whole lactation (ANOVA, ‘free’: 14.1±2.6 kg/d n=11, ‘half-day’:
16.7±3.7 kg/d, p=0.0889, n=10), and ‘half day’ did not significantly differ
from ‘control’ any longer (18.5±2.1 kg/d, p=0.2193 n=12). Lower fat contents in
dams during the suckling period were a sign of disturbed milk ejection (‘free’:
3.34±0.21%, ‘half-day’: 3.10±0.38% vs. 3.96±0.24%, mixed effect model,
p<0.005). No differences in Somatic Cell Score could be detected (p>0.1).
Daily weight gain did not differ among dam reared calves, but was significantly
higher than in ‘control’ calves during the suckling period (ANOVA, ‘free’:
0.97±0.14 kg/d, n=10, ‘half-day’=0.97±0.14 kg/d, n=7, ‘control’: 0.64±0.08
kg/d, n=12, p<0.00 1). The week after separation from the dam there was a
growth check in both dam reared groups (‘free’: 0.43±0.20 kg/d, n=12,
‘half-day’=0.36±0.45 kg/d, n=9, ‘control’: 0.83±0.27 kg/d, n=11, p<0.05),
but two weeks after weaning body weight was still higher than in ‘controls’
(Kruskal-Wallis and Wilcoxon rank sum test, median±median absolute deviation,
‘free’: 120.5±11.8 kg, n=8, ‘half-day’=128.0±9.5 kg, n=5, ‘control’: 109.3±6.8
kg, n=8, p<0.05). Later, when integrated into the milking herd as heifers
after calving (n’free’=5, n’half-day’=5, n’control’=9),
body weight, height at withers, trunk girth, age at calving and milk production
during the first 100 days did not differ between groups. During the first 24 h,
all heifers showed considerably reduced lying durations (recorded with Onset
Pendant G data loggers; Onset Computer Corporation, Bourne, MA). During the second
24 h ‘free’ lay significantly and ‘half-day’ in tendency longer than ‘controls’
(Kruskal-Wallis and Wilcoxon rank sum test, median±median absolute deviation,
‘free’: 6.8±0.3 h, ‘half-day’: 6.2±0.7 h, ‘control’: 4.6±0.9 h) due to more
lying bouts. Results suggest that half-day contact may be a way to reduce the
loss of sellable milk without losing advantages of a dam rearing system. Ways
to prevent a growth check after separation from the dam are needed.

Last updated on 2019-25-07 at 16:22