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Home » Biology Articles » Agriculture » Animal Production » Growth rate, health and welfare in a dairy herd with natural suckling until 6–8 weeks of age: a case report » Case presentation

Case presentation
- Growth rate, health and welfare in a dairy herd with natural suckling until 6–8 weeks of age: a case report


In 2003 and 2004, a total of 31 calves were weighed weekly from birth up to 13 weeks of age. Some registrations lack for certain calves, mainly because they were a few weeks old when they were included in the study. The weight used was Profilvågen WE 2108 weight (S.N. 2358, Max 6 000 kg/Min 1 kg).

The health and slaughter data in this herd was obtained from a central data bank described later. Because of the quote system and a local fromage blanc production on this farm, information concerning total milk production was not available, except that the quote on 70,000 litres milk per year was produced.

Animals and Management

The herd included approximately 15 cows, which is the mean size of dairy herds in Norway. The animals were fed approximately 24% hay, 22% grass silage, 20% pasture and 34% grain during the year, in addition to mineral and vitamin concentrates. Probiotics, hormones, vaccines and navel cord dipping with disinfectant were not used. Antibiotics were prescribed by veterinarians only, for diagnosed bacterial disease, and were not used for preventive purposes. Mastitis treatments include all udder treatments, also during the non-lactating period. From May to October, the cows and suckling calves were on pasture, and from October to May hay and grass silage were given ad libitum. All animals were kept loose in an un-insulated barn, and the cows and suckling calves had access to outdoors areas throughout the year. Long barley straw was used as bedding, except for the feeding area which had concrete floor. The grain was given in the parlour. A short time before calving, the dams were moved into an individual pen for delivery, where they stayed with their calves for 2–3 days before returning to the herd. The suckling calves had access to a separate pen with a small opening not allowing the cows to enter. The calves were allowed to be with their mother for 6–8 weeks, and the cows were also milked in the parlour two times daily. The cows freely moved into the parlour leaving their calves behind with the rest of the herd.

After separation from cows and simultaneously weaning at 6–8 weeks of age, the calves were stabled in groups of 3–10 animals of approximately same age. At 6 months of age, heifers and bulls were segregated, and they were kept in separate pens with 3–10 animals in each pen, using straw as beddings. After weaning, the animals were given hay and grass silage ad libitum, and 0.5–2 kg grain per day increasing with age.

Breeding and Herd Health Recording Systems in Norway

Norwegian Red (NRF), the most common dairy breed in Norway, is selected for milk production, low frequency of clinical mastitis, and for several other functional traits, including female fertility. The relative weight given to health and fertility in the total merit index, used for selection of sires, has increased gradually over the last 25 years. In 2003, 95.9% of the herds and 96.5% of the cows in Norway participated in the Norwegian Dairy Herd Recording System [13]. This data bank includes information from several sources, and individual health recording is integrated. In Norway, each case of veterinary treatment has been registered on an individual cow basis since 1975. Antibiotics and other drugs can be prescribed only by veterinarians in Norway, thus health recordings are viewed as reliable.

The yearly health situation for all individuals in the present herd was obtained from the Norwegian Dairy Health Herd Recording System. Information is given on the number of veterinary treatments of ketosis, puerperal paresis, mastitis including treatment during the non-lactating period, teat injury, retained placenta in addition to information about the average cell count in milk. The mean slaughter weight and slaughter age were also obtained for 56 bulls sent for slaughtering during the years 1999–2004.


The mean (± s.d.) body weight and mean daily gain per week up to 13 weeks of age is presented in Table 1 [Additional file 1]. Illness and mortality in calves and young stock were not observed by the farmer or the veterinarian, nor was cross-suckling. One calf was stillborn. In Table 2 [Additional file 2], the number of cow treatments and mean cell count in milk are given per year for a 6-year period. The slaughter results of bulls during the same 6-year period are given in Table 3 [Additional file 3].

Additional File 1. Growth rate, health and welfare in a dairy herd tables.

Format: DOC Size: 61KB Download file

The farmer observed no problems, e.g. aggression, "lost" calves, cows stealing calves, when returning the cow and calf into the group 2–3 days after delivery. The calves stayed close to their mother the first two weeks. After two weeks of age, the calves usually stayed together during playing/running, sleeping and grassing. Play behaviour such as galloping, bucking, kicking and turnings were common, and often performed by several calves at the same time. The separation during milking seemed to be without distress for the cows and the calves. Milking problems were not observed, but during the suckling period, awareness of empty udders was needed to avoid milking these. The calves were abruptly separated from their mother at 6–8 weeks of age and the separation resulted in vocal responses by both the cow and the calf for 1–2 days. Calves at approximately the same age were separated simultaneously, and stabled in a separate pen, but able to see and hear the cows.

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