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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Behaviour of dairy calves suckling the dam in a barn with automatic milking or being fed milk substitute from an automatic feeder in a group pen

Fröberg, Sofie; Lidfors, Lena


The aim of this study was to investigate the suckling behaviour of dairy calves allowed to suckle freely in a barn with an automatic milking (AM) system and how their behaviour differed from the behaviour of calves given milk substitute from an automatic feeder. For the first 8 weeks of life, calves of the dairy breed Swedish Red were either suckling freely (FS, n = 16) from the dam in an AM barn or kept in groups with automatic feeding (HM, n = 18) with an allowance of 9 kg of milk substitute per day. All treatments had concentrate and hay ad lib. Focal calves in FS and HM treatments were observed one day in weeks 2, 4 and 8, at 08:00-10:00 and the FS calves' suckling behaviour was observed for a 24-h period once weekly. The HM calves moved, ate concentrate and ate hay more than the FS calves, whereas the FS calves lay down and ruminated more than the HM calves. Cross-sucking and tongue-rolling were displayed in HM but not in FS calves. Of the suckling bouts recorded in FS calves 80% was on the dam. Four calves were recorded suckling solely on their dam, but most of the calves were observed attempting to suckle or suckling on other cows in the group once or twice. The total suckling time and number of suckling bouts during week 2-8 on all cows decreased with increasing calf age. In conclusion, the free-suckling calves ate less solid feed, rested more and exhibited fewer non-nutritive oral and abnormal behaviours compared to the calves fed milk substitute from an automatic feeder, and some calves often suckled on other cows. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Dairy calves; Behaviour; Free suckling; Automatic milk feeding; Automatic milking system

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2009, Volume: 117, number: 3-4, pages: 150-158