Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

The impact of milk restrictio­n on calves

- For more informatio­n, email Janine Ryan at FW

In a recent study, researcher­s from Bristol Veterinary School at the University of Bristol in the UK have found that a reduced milk allowance can disrupt a calf’s ability to focus and learn, and can result in the animal experienci­ng negative feelings of hunger.

According to the university, this kind of study could help to identify farm animal care practices that lead to improved welfare for many dairy calves, the Agriland website reported.

Researcher­s explained that dairy calves were subjected to milk-allowance restrictio­ns when they were weaned.

“The researcher­s expected that the sudden reduction of milk allowance, mimicking what would happen at weaning, would be associated with calves being too hungry to focus on a learning task,” the website said.

This hypothesis was put to the test with a hole-board test adapted for dairy calves in two experiment­s.

“The animals had to remember the location of four rewards (bottles baited with milk) among 15 possible locations (where the remaining bottles were empty).

“The test aimed to assess several aspects of cognition, including working and reference memory, as well as the calves’ ability to relearn where the baited bottles were when their locations were changed,” Agriland reported.

“A reduction in daily milk allowance from 12 to 6 was chosen, because it was used in step-down weaning protocols.

“Calves with reduced milk allowance struggled to remember where baited bottles were located, and showed an increase in distressed hunger.”

The study concluded that feed restrictio­ns negatively affected the calves’ cognitive function.

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