PhD project by Margret Wenker. There are societal concerns about the early separation of dairy cow and calf. This project aims to investigate rearing methods with different levels and components of maternal care for effects on the behavioural and biological functioning of calves, as young animal but also later in life.
Dairy cattle are one of the domestic animal species that is withheld from maternal care by directly separating cow and calf after birth. Receiving no or limited maternal care may not only affect the welfare of the young animal, but may also influence social and biological functioning later in life. Besides, there are societal concerns about the early separation of dairy cow and calf. Research on (long-term) effects of maternal care on calf welfare is limited. This project aims to investigate rearing methods with different levels and components of maternal care for effects on the behavioural and biological functioning of calves, as young animal but also later in life. Objectives are to determine i) what level of cow-calf contact contributes most to calf and cow welfare, ii) how much cow and calf value suckling, iii) the least stressful method for weaning and separation after prolonged cow-calf contact, and iv) which nourishment practices are most effective for calf health.
To this end, in the first experiment both cow-calf contact level (no contact, physical contact but no suckling, full contact including suckling) and nourishment practice (colostrum administered by bottle/suckled from the udder, feeding milk replacer/whole milk) are examined regarding their impact on behavioural, physiological, immunological, and microbiological response parameters, throughout the rearing period and early adulthood in female calves. The dam is also monitored to explore effects of cow-calf contact on her biological and behavioural functioning. Cow-calf contact is allowed during first 8 weeks of life for the 2 contact groups, after that 2 different separation and weaning methods are tested in both groups. In the second experiment a social runway test is performed to evaluate the relevance of suckling for both calf and cow. Ultimately, through this research potential welfare enhancing farm practices will be identified.