Effect of cow-calf contact on motivation of dairy cows to access their calf

M.L. Wenker, Eddie Bokkers, Cynthia Verwer, C.G. van Reenen, M.A.G. von Keyserlingk, D.M. Weary

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstractAcademic


In modern dairy husbandry it is common practice to separate cow and calf within a few hours after parturition. When cow-calf contact is allowed a bond develops, even in absence of suckling. To date no research examined the strength of this bond. The aim of this study was to assess the motivation of dairy cows with different levels of cow-calf contact to access their calf. Thirty-four Holstein Friesian cows were either i) directly separated from their calf within 2 hours postpartum, ii) allowed to spend the nights with their calf but fitted with an udder net to prevent any suckling, or iii) allowed to spend the nights with their calf and the calf was able to suckle. Cows were trained to push a weighted gate to get access to their calf for 2 minutes and tested once a day after the afternoon milking. The weight on the gate was increased by 9 kg each day until the cow failed to open it. The final weight each cow was willing to push was measured and analysed using Kaplan–Meier survival curves. Directly separated cows worked as hard as cows with an udder net (p = 0.32) to get access to their calf, but worked less hard than suckled cows (p = 0.01). These results indicate that the calf is a valuable resource that dairy cows are motivated to work for, and that being suckled increases the motivation to access the calf.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrade-Offs in Science - Keeping the balance
Subtitle of host publicationAbstracts of the WIAS Science Day 2019
PublisherWageningen University & Research
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2019
EventWIAS Science Day 2019: Trade-Offs in Science - Congrescentrum de Werelt, Lunteren, Netherlands
Duration: 18 Mar 201918 Mar 2019


ConferenceWIAS Science Day 2019
Abbreviated titleKeeping the Balance

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