Views on cow-calf separation

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“Why do you remove dairy calves from their mothers within a few hours of birth?” It’s a question for which researcher Heather Dann wanted to be prepared with a concrete answer before a recent, public farm tour.

Dann, who works at the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute near Chazy, N.Y., conducted and online and published literature search to investigate the rationale behind this longstanding practice.  While protecting the health of the cow and calf was a consistent reason cited, she found some responses that were carefully measured, and others that were highly inflammatory.

Some of the most recent research on this topic has been conducted at the University of British Columbia and published in the Journal of Dairy Science.  Findings from that study included:

  • Distress for both the cow and calf is greater when separation is delayed for longer than one day.
  • Results were mixed on calf health.  Rather than separation time, the factors that were more important precursors to calf health were colostrum intake and proper hygiene.
  • Suckling by the calf on the cow had some positive health effects for the cow (less retained placenta and mastitis).

The British Columbia researchers suggest that the role of the cow as a model for social skills in the calf is evolving.  Calves that were raised 4 to 14 days with cows showed decreased fear and interacted more with other calves.

Source:  Miner Institute Farm Report 



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