A feeding regimen that allows a smooth transition from milk to solid feed is vital for successful heifer-rearing programs. In the past, research efforts have focused on the development of feeding methods that allow early weaning, perhaps because the risk of disease is highest during the milk feeding stage. To encourage early intake of calf starter, conventional feeding programs have limited the supply of milk (often to 10% of BW at birth). However, dairy calves provided free access to milk will typically consume more than twice this amount. We critically review the available literature examining the relationship between milk feeding method, solid feed consumption, and rumen development in young dairy calves and identify areas where new work is required. We conclude that milk-fed dairy calves can safely ingest milk at approximately 20% of body weight (BW)/d, and greater milk consumption supports greater BW gain, improved feed efficiency, reduced incidence of disease, and greater opportunity to express natural behaviors, which in combination suggest improved welfare. Method of weaning greatly influences feed consumption, rumen development, and growth check in calves provided higher amounts of milk. Gradual weaning encourages starter intake during the preweaning period, and both weaning age and duration of weaning influence this consumption. Increased solid feed consumption during the weaning process contributes to rumen development, permitting higher starter intake and BW gain after weaning. Growth factors in milk may also enhance the growth and maturation of the gastrointestinal tract, but more research is required to understand the role of these factors. Greater nutrient supply through increased amount of milk appears to improve immune function and long-term performance of heifer calves; for example, reducing the age at first breeding and increasing first-lactation milk yield, but more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Conventional milk feeding for calves (by bucket twice daily at a total of 10% of body weight) was compared with feeding milk for ad libitum consumption from a nipple. Calves were weaned gradually between d 37 and 42 by diluting the milk with water, and body weight and feed consumption were followed until d 63. Calves fed ad libitum drank 89% more milk than calves fed conventionally during the preweaning period, but the ad libitum-fed calves ate only 16% as much calf starter and 17% as much hay. Consumption of starter and hay increased rapidly after weaning, and treatment differences disappeared. Probably as a result of the much higher intake of milk, the ad libitum-fed calves gained 63% more weight than the conventionally fed calves before weaning, resulting in a 10.5-kg weight advantage on d 35. During and immediately after weaning, the rate of weight gain slowed for both treatment groups, but recovered by approximaely d 49. There were no treatment differences in weight gains over the weaning or postweaning periods, and at the end of the experiment on d 63, the calves fed ad libitum maintained an advantage in mean (+/- SEM) body weight (89.07 +/- 2.47 kg vs 81.07 +/- 2.47 kg for the conventionally fed calves). Incidence of diarrhea was low and did not differ between treatment groups. We conclude that ad libitum nipple feeding of milk to dairy calves can allow for increased milk intake and weight gain with no detrimental effects on intake of solid food after weaning.
Metritis is a disease of particular concern after calving because of its profound negative effects on the reproductive performance of dairy cows. Cows at risk for metritis have shorter feeding times in the days before calving but prepartum dry matter intake (DMI) and water intake may also be useful in identifying cows at risk for this disease. Feeding, drinking, and intake measures may also be affected by social interactions among group-housed cows. The objective of this study, therefore, was to measure intake, feeding, drinking, and social behavior to determine which measures could identify cows at risk for metritis after calving. Feeding and drinking behavior and intake measures were collected from 101 Holstein dairy cows from 2 wk before until 3 wk after calving using an electronic monitoring system. Social behavior at the feed bunk was assessed from video recordings. Metritis severity was diagnosed based on daily rectal body temperature as well as condition of vaginal discharge that was assessed every 3 d after calving until d +21. In this study, 12% of cows were classified as severely metritic and 27% as mildly metritic. Prepartum feeding time and DMI were best able to identify cows at risk for metritis. Cows that developed severe metritis spent less time feeding and consumed less feed compared with healthy cows beginning 2 wk before the observation of clinical signs of infection. For every 10-min decrease in average daily feeding time during the week before calving, the odds of severe metritis increased by 1.72, and for every 1-kg decrease in DMI during this period, cows were nearly 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder. During the week before calving, cows that were later diagnosed with severe metritis had lower DMI and feeding times during the hours following fresh feed delivery. During this period these cows also engaged in fewer aggressive interactions at the feed bins compared with cows that remained healthy. This research is the first to show that social behavior may play an important role in transition cow health. Research is now required to determine how management should be changed to reduce or prevent illness in transition dairy cows.
Calves are born with a physically and metabolically underdeveloped rumen and initially rely on milk to meet nutrient demands for maintenance and growth. Initiation of solid feed consumption, acquisition of anaerobic microbes, establishment of rumen fermentation, expansion of rumen in volume, differentiation and growth of papillae, development of absorption and metabolic pathways, maturation of salivary apparatus and development of rumination behavior are all needed as the calf shifts from dependence on milk to solid feed. In nature and some production systems (e.g., most beef calves), young ruminants obtain nutrients from milk and fresh forages. In intensive dairying, calves are typically fed restricted amounts of milk and weaned onto starter feeds. Here we review the empirical work on the role of feeding and management during the transition from milk to solid feed in establishing the rumen ecosystem, rumen fermentation, rumen development, rumination behavior, and growth of dairy calves. In recent years, several studies have illustrated the benefits of feeding more milk and group rearing of dairy calves to take advantage of social facilitation (e.g., housing with peers or dam), and this review also examines the role of solid feed on rumen development and growth of calves fed large quantities of milk and reared under different housing situations. We conclude that the provision of high-starch and low-fiber starter feeds may negatively affect rumen development and that forage supplementation is beneficial for promoting development of the gut and rumination behavior in young calves. It is important to note that both the physical form of starter diets and their nutritional composition affect various aspects of development in calves. Further research is warranted to identify an optimal balance between physically effective fiber and readily degradable carbohydrates in starter diets to support development of a healthy gut and rumen, rumination behavior, and growth in young calves.
We review recent research in one of the oldest and most important applications of ethology: evaluating animal health. Traditionally, such evaluations have been based on subjective assessments of debilitative signs; animals are judged ill when they appear depressed or off feed. Such assessments are prone to error but can be dramatically improved with training using well-defined clinical criteria. The availability of new technology to automatically record behaviors allows for increased use of objective measures; automated measures of feeding behavior and intake are increasingly available in commercial agriculture, and recent work has shown these to be valuable indicators of illness. Research has also identified behaviors indicative of risk of disease or injury. For example, the time spent standing on wet, concrete surfaces can be used to predict susceptibility to hoof injuries in dairy cattle, and time spent nuzzling the udder of the sow can predict the risk of crushing in piglets. One conceptual advance has been to view decreased exploration, feeding, social, sexual, and other behaviors as a coordinated response that helps afflicted individuals recover from illness. We argue that the sickness behaviors most likely to decline are those that provide longer-term fitness benefits (such as play), as animals divert resources to those functions of critical short-term value such as maintaining body temperature. We urge future research assessing the strength of motivation to express sickness behaviors, allowing for quantitative estimates of how sick an animal feels. Finally, we call for new theoretical and empirical work on behaviors that may act to signal health status, including behaviors that have evolved as honest (i.e., reliable) signals of condition for offspring-parent, inter- and intra-sexual, and predator-prey communication.
Concerns about the welfare of animals typically include 3 questions: is the animal functioning well (e.g., good health, productivity, etc.), is the animal feeling well (e.g., absence of pain, etc.), and is the animal able to live according to its nature (e.g., perform natural behaviors that are thought to be important to it, such as grazing)? We review examples, primarily from our own research, showing how all 3 questions can be addressed using science. For example, we review work showing 1) how common diseases such as lameness can be better identified and prevented through improvements in the ways cows are housed and managed, 2) how pain caused by dehorning of dairy calves can be reduced, and 3) how environmental conditions affect cow preferences for indoor housing versus pasture. Disagreements about animal welfare can occur when different measures are used. For example, management systems that favor production may restrict natural behavior or can even lead to higher rates of disease. The best approaches are those that address all 3 types of concerns, for example, feeding systems for calves that allow expression of key behaviors (i.e., sucking on a teat), that avoid negative affect (i.e., hunger), and that allow for improved functioning (i.e., higher rates of body weight gain, and ultimately higher milk production).
One of the most important design criteria for dairy cow housing is access to a comfortable lying area. Behaviors such as the time cows spend lying down and how often they lie down can be used to evaluate the quality of stalls; however, assessing lying behavior on farms can be challenging. Indices such as the cow comfort index (CCI) and stall use index (SUI) have been widely used in on-farm assessments. The aims were to establish reliable sampling and recording methods for measuring lying behavior, to evaluate the adequacy of the CCI and SUI as estimates of lying behavior, and to describe variation in the lying behaviors of free-stall-housed dairy cows. The time spent lying down and the number of lying bouts for 2,033 cows on 43 farms were recorded for 5 d using electronic data loggers sampling at 1-min intervals. The CCI and SUI were calculated based on a single observation taken 2 h before the afternoon milking on each farm. Subsets of data were created, including 4, 3, 2, or 1 d per cow and 40, 30, 20, 10, 5, or 1 cow(s) per farm. The estimates derived from each sample size were compared with the overall means (based on 5 d and 44 cows per farm) for lying time and number of lying bouts, and the CCI and SUI were compared with the farm means of lying time, number of lying bouts, and bout duration using linear regression. Recording 30 or more cows for 3 d or more represented the overall means with high accuracy (R(2) > 0.9), but using fewer cows or fewer days per cow resulted in poorer estimates of the farm mean. The CCI and SUI showed no association with the daily lying time (h/d; R(2) < 0.01), and CCI was only weakly associated with the number of lying bouts per day (R(2) = 0.16) and bout duration (min/bout; R(2) = 0.09). Cows lay down 11.0 +/- 2.1 h/d in 9 +/- 3 bouts/d, with a bout duration of 88 +/- 30 min/bout. These values ranged from 9.5 to 12.9 h/d, 7 to 10 bouts/d, and 65 to 112 min/bout across farm means, and 4.2 to 19.5 h/d, 1 to 28 bouts/d, and 22 to 342 min/bout across individuals, showing that variation in lying behavior among individual cows within farm was greater than differences among farms.
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