Factors to limit cross-sucking in auto-fed calves

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One of the greatest reservations dairy producers have about adopting group housing of preweaned calves is the occurrence of cross-sucking. As group housing has grown in popularity in Europe, Canada and now the United States, more research is being performed to evaluate various factors surrounding the practice, including cross-sucking behavior.

Researchers Bob James and Kayla Machado at Virginia Tech University have both evaluated the research and personally observed many group-housed operations. They offer the following observations about cross-sucking:

  • Cross-sucking is less of a problem in auto-fed calves compared to those fed with mob feeders.
  • In auto-fed systems, the incidence of cross-sucking is likely to be lowest when calves are allowed to consume four to five meals per day of 1.5 to 2.5 quarts per meal. Limit-feeding at levels lower than this results in more aggression and crowding around the feeder and subsequently more cross-sucking.
  • When daily allowances are low and meal sizes small, reductions in flow rate of milk to prolong feeding time appears to satisfy calves’ urge to suck.

The full text of a paper by James and Machado on group housing and feeding of preweaned calves from the 2013 Western Dairy Management Conference can be found here.

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