The effect of milk quantity and feeding frequency on calf growth and behaviour
AuthorJongman, EC; Conley, MJ; Borg, S; Butler, KL; Fisher, AJ
Source TitleAnimal Production Science
AffiliationVeterinary Clinical Sciences
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsJongman, E. C., Conley, M. J., Borg, S., Butler, K. L. & Fisher, A. J. (2020). The effect of milk quantity and feeding frequency on calf growth and behaviour. Animal Production Science, 60 (7), pp.944-952. https://doi.org/10.1071/AN19049.
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Context: Calves left with their dam to suckle will consume ~7–12 L/day; however, the amount of milk provided to dairy young calves removed from their dams may often be as low as 4 L/day, or 10% of their bodyweight. Aims: This study compared once and twice daily feeding, as well as feeding levels of 10 and 20% of bodyweight and studied the effect on behaviour and metabolic indicators indicative of hunger. Methods: Forty-six male dairy calves were allocated to one of three treatments from 3 to 8 days of age: (i) 10% of bodyweight offered daily as one meal (1 × 10%, n = 16); (ii) 10% of bodyweight offered daily over two meals (2 × 5%, n = 15); or (iii) 20% of bodyweight offered over two meals (2 × 10%, n = 15). Behaviour during and after feeding was observed by video, and blood samples taken on selected days were analysed for glucose, nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA), cortisol and packed-cell volume. Key results: Milk intake on Days 3 and 4 was lower in those calves fed once daily compared with calves fed twice daily. Calves fed at 20% bodyweight had higher milk intake compared with calves fed at 10% bodyweight on all days other than Day 3 and growth was higher in those calves. Non-nutritive sucking was mainly associated with feeding times and it was highest in calves fed 10% bodyweight over two meals, with a suckling pattern that suggested that feeding at 10% bodyweight satisfied feeding motivation less than feeding at 20% bodyweight. Play behaviour was reduced in calves fed once daily, suggesting hunger and reduced welfare. There were significant effects on physiological indicators of metabolic state. NEFA concentrations were significantly higher in calves fed once daily and calves fed 10% of bodyweight at certain time points, indicating a lower energy balance. Conclusions: Feeding twice daily offers benefits to calves up to Day 4 of life whereas feeding 20% of bodyweight was beneficial after Day 4 to increase satisfaction of feeding motivation and nutrition for growth. Although metabolic variables were within normal physiological range for all treatments, the effects on feed intake, growth and non-nutrient sucking suggest marked effects on hunger when calves are fed the lower milk allowance. Implications: The fairly common practice of feeding dairy calves 10% of bodyweight, in one or two daily meals may leave calves hungry, and an increase in milk allowance should be considered.
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