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Strategies for keeping dairy cows and calves together – a cross-sectional survey study

Eriksson, H.; Fall, N.; Ivemeyer, S.; Knierim, U.; Simantke, C.; Waltl-Fuerst, B.; Winckler, C.; Weissensteiner, R.; Pomiès, D.; Martin, B.; Michaud, A.; Priolo, A.; Caccamo, M.; Sakowski, T.; Stachelek, M.; Spengler Neff, A.; Bieber, A.; Schneider, C. and Alvåsen, K. (2022) Strategies for keeping dairy cows and calves together – a cross-sectional survey study. Animal, 16 (9), pp. 1-14.

[thumbnail of eriksson-etal-2022-Animal-Vol16-Issue9-p1-14.pdf] PDF - Published Version - English
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Document available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1751731122001811


Although it is still most common to rear dairy calves separately from adult cattle, the interest in prolonged contact between dairy calves and lactating cows during early life is increasing. Previous research has documented positive effects of cow-calf contact (CCC) on for example early calf growth and udder health of suckled cows, but also negative effects such as increased separation distress and reduced weight gains after weaning. The aim of this study was to use information from European farms with prolonged cow-calf contact to identify innovative solutions to common challenges for CCC farms. Commercial dairy farms that kept calves with adult lactating cows for seven days or more after birth were invited to participate, and interviews were performed with 104 farmers from six countries. During interviews, information about farm management, calf rearing, farmers’ perception of animal health on their farm, and farmers’ drivers and barriers for implementing CCC were collected. We found that CCC was practised in a large variety of housing and management systems, and that calves could be reared together with their dam, with foster cows, or using a combination of the two. The contact period varied considerably (7–305 days) between farms and about 25% of the farms manually milk fed the calves during parts of the milk feeding period. Daily contact time varied between farms, from 30 minutes per day to permanent contact except at milking. Behaviours indicative of separation distress, most commonly vocalisation in cows and calves, were reported by 87% of the farmers. Strategies to alleviate separation distress, for example simultaneous gradual weaning and separation, were used on some farms. Building constraints were most often mentioned as a barrier for implementing CCC. Our findings suggest that CCC is practised in a variety of commonly used husbandry systems. Reported challenges were primarily related to weaning and separation, and to building constraints; these aspects should be areas of future research.

EPrint Type:Journal paper
Keywords:Calf rearing, Cow-calf contact, Farmer attitudes, Health, Management, ProYoungStock, Abacus, FiBL50090
Agrovoc keywords:
calf feeding
animal health
Subjects: Animal husbandry > Production systems > Dairy cattle
Animal husbandry > Production systems > Beef cattle
Animal husbandry > Feeding and growth
Animal husbandry > Health and welfare
Research affiliation: European Union > CORE Organic > CORE Organic Cofund > ProYoungStock
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Animal > Animal welfare & housing > Animal welfare
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Animal > Cattle
Horizon Europe or H2020 Grant Agreement Number:727495
Related Links:https://www.proyoungstock.net/
Deposited By: Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau, FiBL
ID Code:45469
Deposited On:16 Feb 2023 10:20
Last Modified:16 Feb 2023 10:20
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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