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Cow calf relationship

  • cowandcalfWhen to remove a calf from her dairy cow mother is often debated as an animal welfare issue. The question is to find which system causes least stress on cow and calf.
  • The general practice is to remove the calf as soon as it has had sufficient colostrum, which may be a few hours after birth. It is argued that this is less stressful than at four days when milk can go to the factory.
  • The cow’s colostrum production is reduced to acceptable levels after 4 days.
  • In the wild, cattle are "lying out" species who hide their calves and suckle them at intervals during the day.
  • The cow and calf spend the night together, have an early morning suckle then the calf lies down while the cow goes off grazing.
  • An individual cow may graze close by their own calf, and act as a guardian of the crèche. If calf bellows, then it’s mother will return.
  • Around mid morning, one or two calves will call out and most cows then return to suckle their calves.
  • The same pattern occurs in the afternoon. Then in the evening cows return to suckle and spend the night with their calves.
  • After 2-3 weeks, cows are more closely associated with their calves who will then follow their dams to graze and rest near them.
Social order in cows and calves
  • Cattle show a very clearly defined social order.
  • It’s called the "bunt order" as they use their heads to sort it out.
  • If cattle are horned, then they have a big advantage over polled cows. This may cause problems in mixed groups in yards and at slaughter plants.
  • Horns cause meat bruising, hide damage and injury to people. They should be removed at birth with the hot cauterising iron and local anaesthetic, or genetically by using polled bulls.
  • Social order can be a very important issue in milking herds affecting cow flow.
  • It will be an issue with milking robot as dominant cows can block the flow through the unit.
  • Social order is important with communally fed calves. There is a need to regularly draft calves to keep them of similar size and hence reduce bullying.
  • The social order developed in calves can last till they enter the herd.
  • Social facilitation is important when ad lib feeding as one calf can trigger feeding.
  • Group-fed calves are better socialised than those reared in isolation.
  • Calves can discriminate between objects, black versus white and large versus small.

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