PhD project by Sarah McPherson. This project assesses the impact and feasibility of an innovative, more natural manner of raising dairy calves. We will investigate strategies to separate the calf from the dam with as little stress as possible, and study non-invasive, automated sensor methods to assess animal stress continuously.
Consumers around the world are becoming increasingly concerned with the welfare of farm animals, with a primary focus on animals living as natural a life as possible. With dairy cattle, this results in consumers being particularly concerned with the issues of pasture access and cow-calf contact. Recent research has focused on one of these two subjects, but not both in combination.
The aim of this PhD is to investigate the impact of cow-calf contact from birth to weaning on dairy calf and cow health, growth, behaviour, production, and welfare in the context of a pasture-based, seasonal-calving dairy system. Next to this, the project will investigate strategies to separate the calf from the dam with as little stress as possible. This separation, which involves both weaning off milk and separation of the calf and dam, has been shown to be more stressful to the animals involved when bonding has occurred and is hence an important barrier to cow-calf contact systems. To study this animal stress, non-invasive methods are crucial if the impact of the method is not to interfere with the experience of the animal. This project will hence also study non-invasive, automated sensor methods to assess animal stress continuously through daily activity levels, and apply the newly developed method to identify least stressful separation methods for bonded calves and cows.
In this PhD project, the following research objectives will be addressed:
- Investigate the impact that prolonged cow-calf contact will have on dairy calf health, growth, behaviour, and welfare in a pasture-based seasonal calving system
- Investigate the effect that prolonged cow-calf contact will have on dairy cow health, production, behaviour, and welfare in a pasture-based seasonal calving system
- To develop and validate a new method of monitoring stress in dairy cattle through deviations in daily activity in dairy cows and calves
- Evaluate the effects of different methods of weaning and separation after pasture-based cow-calf contact on both cows and calves