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Cow calf relationship

  • When 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 six weeks of age with the hot cauterising iron and local anaesthetic for pain relief, or genetically by using polled bulls. After October 1 2019, it is an offence to disbud calves without the use of local anaesthetic.
  • 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 in others.
  • Group-fed calves are better socialised than those reared in isolation.
  • Calves can discriminate between objects, black versus white and large versus small.