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Milk portion size and milk flow affects dairy calves’ behaviour

Nielsen, Per Peetz; Jensen, Margit Bak; Lidfors, Lena


Cross-sucking (CS) by artificially fed dairy calves is a redirection of the calves’ normal sucking behaviour and it occurs in close connection to milk meals. We examined how a combination of milk portion size (1 or 2 litres) and flow (300 or 600 ml per min) affects calves’ use of a computer controlled milk feeder and the occurrence of CS. Forty-eight calves (43 Holstein-Friesian and 5 Swedish Red; 26 heifers and 22 bulls) were exposed to all four treatments in a cross-over design with four periods of 1wk each. The data were analysed by either a generalized mixed model or a variance component procedure. The calves’ milk meals (rewarded visits) were longer (p<0.001) when they were fed the milk in large (8 to 10 min) compared to small portions (around 6 min). Treatment had no effect on the number of calves performing CS (20 out of 26 bull calves and 18 out of 22 heifer calves performed CS). More bull calves (26) received CS than heifer calves (17, p<0.01) and more CS was performed by heifer (1115 times) than bull calves (751 times, p<0.001). Subsequently, CS was categorized as occurring within 30 minutes after a milk feeder visit (i.e. related to the visit), or >60 minutes after (i.e. not related to a visit to the milk feeder). The CS occurring between 30 to 60 min after a milk feeder visit was removed from the analysis. Neither portion size nor milk flow affected the proportion of calves performing CS within the first 30 min after a visit. However, more calves performed CS >60 minutes after a feeder visit, when they were fed small milk portions (p<0.05) or when they were subjected to a slow milk flow (p<0.05). In order to allow calves to satisfy their sucking needs they should receive the milk in large portions to prolong rewarded visits and thereby reduce cross-sucking occurring more than 60 min after a visit to the milk feeder

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Proc. of the 42nd Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology