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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2007

Reaction of foster cows to prevention of suckling from and separation from four calves simultaneously or in two steps

Loberg JM, Hernandez CE, Thierfelder T, Jensen MB, Berg C, Lidfors L


The aim of this study was to investigate if a 2-step method of preventing suckling and cow-calf separation reduces the stress reaction in foster cows compared with a simultaneous separation method. Seven Swedish Holstein and 5 Swedish Red dairy cows were used as foster cows, each having a group of 4 calves. The foster cow-calf group was formed when calves were 1 wk old, and the calves were prevented from suckling at 10 wk of age. In 6 of the cow-calf groups, calves were prevented from suckling by simultaneous separation from the cow (control). In the other 6 groups, calves were fitted with a nose-flap, which prevented them from suckling while they were kept together with the cow for another 2 wk before they were separated (2-step). The behavior of the foster cows was observed at 4 observation periods, 0 to 2, 8.5 to 9.5, 24 to 26, and 72 to 74 h after the calves were prevented from suckling (2-step), after separation (2-step), and after calves were prevented from suckling by simultaneous separation (control). For both treatments, saliva cortisol was sampled once daily for 5 d at wk 10. This was repeated at wk 12 for the 2-step treatment. Heart rate was measured with the behavioral observations. Control foster cows vocalized more (P < 0.001) and walked more (P = 0.005) than the 2-step foster cows after prevention of suckling and after separation from the calves. When control cows were separated from their calves, they more frequently (P < 0.001) held their head out of the pen than was the case with 2-step cows when Separated 2 wk after prevention of suckling. The variation in heart rate was larger in the control group compared with 2-step cows at 0 to 2 h after separation/ prevention of suckling (P = 0.002). No effect of treatment was found on cortisol concentration. Our conclusion is that separating the 2 events "prevention of suckling" and "separation" reduces the stress experienced by the foster cow at weaning


behavior; behaviour; cortisol; foster cow; heart rate; stress; weaning

Published in

Journal of Animal Science
2007, Volume: 85, number: 6, pages: 1522-1529