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The behavioural response of cattle (Bos taurus) to artificial weaning in two stages



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Two factors presumed to affect the behavioural response of cattle (Bos Taurus) to artificial weaning were investigated: the termination of nursing, and the physical separation of cows and calves. A two-stage process was used to disconnect these traditionally linked components. First, the behaviour of cows and calves was quantified in response to preventing nursing by having calves wear an antisucking device (Stage 1). Then the behavioural response of cows and calves to being separated was observed (Stage 2). Control pairs were weaned abruptly; nursing ended when cows and calves were separated. Preventing nursing while pairs were still together had almost no effect on measures of general activity with the exception of causing a slight increase in the rate of vocalizing. Calves wearing antisucking devices spent the same amount of time eating as controls. The behavioural responses of two-stage pairs to separation were favourably reduced compared to controls. In one study, two-stage cows vocalized 84% less than controls, spent 60% less time walking, and 13% more time lying, compared to controls. Two-stage calves called 97% less than controls, spent 61% less time walking, and 30% more time eating. In another study, preventing nursing for longer (3 versus 14 d) had no noticeable beneficial effects on the behaviour response to separation. In three separate trials two-stage calves gained more weight during the first week after separation from their dams. The two-stage process further reduced the behaviour responses when compared to weaning by fenceline contact. The benefits of two-stage weaning were also observed with dairy calves weaned from their dams at 5 weeks of age. The combined results of these studies indicate that the traditional method of weaning, by simultaneously terminating nursing and separating pairs, exacerbates the behavioural responses of cows and calves. Imposing these in two separate stages did not produce the same additive effect suggesting that the traditional weaning method produces a negative synergistic effect on the behaviour response. Based on the evidence two-stage weaning offers a viable production practice that is likely to improve the welfare of cows and calves.



welfare, stress, ethology, livestock



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Large Animal Clinical Sciences


Large Animal Clinical Sciences



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