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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

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

Eriksson, Hanna; Fall, Nils; Ivemeyer, S.; Knierim, U.; Simantke, C.; Fuerst-Waltl, B.; Winckler, C.; Weissensteiner, R.; Pomies, D.; Martin, B.; Michaud, A.; Priolo, A.; Caccamo, M.; Sakowski, T.; Stachelek, M.; Spengler Neff, A.; Schneider, C.; Alvåsen, Karin


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.


Calf rearing; Cow-calf contact; Farmer attitudes; HealthManagement

Published in

2022, volume: 16, number: 9, article number: 100624

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences
Ivemeyer, S.
University of Kassel
Knierim, U.
Univ Kassel
Simantke, C.
University of Kassel
Fuerst-Waltl, B.
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna
Winckler, C.
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna
Weissensteiner, R.
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna
Pomies, D.
Universite Clermont Auvergne (UCA)
Martin, B.
Universite Clermont Auvergne (UCA)
Michaud, A.
University of Clermont Auvergne
Priolo, A.
University of Catania
Caccamo, M.
Consorzio per la Ricerca nel settore della Filiera Lattiero
Sakowski, T.
Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN)
Stachelek, M.
Institute of Genetics and Animal Biotechnology, Polish Academy of Sciences
Spengler Neff, A.
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)
Schneider, C.
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science

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