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Calves with their dams in dairy cow systems

Vaarst, Mette; Hellec, Florence; Sørheim, Kristin; Johanssen, Juni Rosann E. and Verwer, Cynthia (2019) Calves with their dams in dairy cow systems. GrazyDaiSy, Randers, Denmark.

[thumbnail of fullreport-pdf-version-december-2019.pdf] PDF - Published Version - English


Conclusions and future perspectives:
Interviews and on-farm studies across The Netherlands, France, Norway and Denmark showed that dam-rearing is practiced in a wealth of different systems, and four main angles should be considered when organizing a dam-calf contact system to fit the context and work well: calf, cow, farmers and farming system.
Dam-calf contact systems can be seen as contributing significantly to the physiology and natural behavior of calves as well as of mother cows. Three important qualities in dam-calf contact systems were described from animals’ perspective: 1) nutrition, 2) care, and 3) learning. The priorities and perceptions of the importance of these three qualities influenced very much the farmers’ choices and priorities of systems. A focus on nutrition could for example motivate the choice of part time systems and strongly restricted systems (e.g. two times two hours daily access to each other), whereas a focus on care and learning would motivate a more full-time access system.
Some perceived the calves to be equipped with capacities and skills through learning from the dam and others in the system, adding to their life opportunities, and they would favor a system where mother cow and calf were together with as little restriction as possible, although such systems require major efforts to organize and keep the overview.
Farmers, who were introduced to dam-calf contact systems, but without having prior experience of these systems, pointed to the need for developing systems, which were much more ‘friendly’ to both cows and calves than what they saw. That is, develop dairy systems, which allowed cows and calves to be together, and the calves to learn about life in a dairy herd (e.g. indoor and outdoor life, and eating solid feed and grass), and with minimum risk.
Among some interviewed actors, the needs of the calf seemed to be more in focus and of higher priority than the natural needs and the motivation of the mother cow. This is clear when talking about foster cow systems (where the mother cow is separated early after calving from her calf), but also when talking about dam-calf contact systems, many seemed to focus most on the benefits of the calf, although many noticed that the mother cow often reacted strongly to the separation and showed much distress.
Seen from the farmers’ points of view, it was remarkable that most farmers, who had dam-calf contact systems, were mainly driven by the pleasure of seeing it work, and seeing the interaction between calves and cows. They articulated how they were touched and impressed e.g. by the mother cow’s consistent ‘watching over’ her calf, and the pain of separation. A number of the farmers had never been motivated by premium price or consumer demands, but just did it because they found it right, or ‘easier’ in combination that it brought them other qualities being farmers.
Farmers, who were confronted with dam rearing systems for the first time in their lives, pointed to the necessity of finding a balance between ‘trusting the animals’ (because they could clearly see that the calves found their way), and ‘being in control’, because they used to know exactly how much milk the calves were drinking on daily basis. This points to the need for the humans in the system to redirect efforts and focus when observing animals, and when spending their time with cows and calves.
There was a repeated questioning of ‘naturalness’ in relation to dam-rearing. Whilst acknowledging that mother cows and calves were strongly motivated and it was ‘natural’ for them to be together, some farmers also pointed to factors which partly made it ‘unnatural’ for them. This was especially the very high milk yields of dairy cows, which could lead to overdrinking for the calf, or deep udders, which made it difficult to drink for the calf, or the fact that daily life in a large dairy herd might not give a newborn calf sufficient peace to rest.
Some issues remained unsolved at the current moment, and they need future solutions. One is the difference in many herds between ‘calves to stay in the herd’ versus ‘calves to leave the herds’ and not least their mothers, which had to go through early and abrupt separation.
Another aspect is whether it is best to aim at farming systems in which the calf can find its mother, or the mother find her calf, or how they both have more or less unrestricted access to each other, but then with no opportunity to seek peace in a calf hide.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Dam-rearing, mother-bonded calf rearing, dam-calf contact systems, dairy farming,
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Animal husbandry
Farming Systems > Social aspects
Animal husbandry > Health and welfare
Farming Systems > Buildings and machinery
"Organics" in general > Countries and regions > Denmark
"Organics" in general > Countries and regions > France
"Organics" in general > Countries and regions > Netherlands
"Organics" in general > Countries and regions > Norway
Research affiliation: European Union > CORE Organic > CORE Organic Cofund > GrazyDaiSy
Denmark > Organic RDD 4 > KALVvedKO
Netherlands > Louis Bolk Institute
France > INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique
Norway > NORSØK - Norwegian Centre for Organic Agriculture
Deposited By: Vaarst, Dr. Mette
ID Code:36915
Deposited On:09 Dec 2019 07:23
Last Modified:16 Dec 2019 08:31
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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