Performance of ad libitum fed dairy calves weaned using fixed and individual methods

Animal (2019), 13:9, pp 1891-1898

Open Access
L. N. Leal, M. A. Steele, M. A. Khan and J. Martín-Tereso

by A. C. Welboren on 20/02/2019
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The increasing availability of automated milk dispensers on dairy farms facilitates ad libitum milk supply but weaning calves from high milk allowances is challenging. This study evaluated effects of gradual weaning methods on starter intake, growth, selected blood parameters and weaning distress in ad libitum fed dairy calves during weaning and early post-weaning periods. Thirty-six male Holstein (n = 30) or crossbred (n = 6) calves were individually housed from days 2 to 14 of age and had ad libitum access to milk replacer (MR) from teat buckets. From days 15 to 84 of age, calves were grouped and had ad libitum access to MR, starter, straw and water from automated feeders. At day 35, calves were blocked (age and breed), and randomly assigned to a weaning method: (1) linear fixed (LIN), MR supply was stepped down to 6 l/day on day 36, and linearly reduced between days 36 to 63 from 6 to 2 l/day. (2) Step-down (STEP), MR supply was stepped down to 6 l/day from days 36 to 48, 4 l/day from days 49 to 56 and 2 l/day from days 57 to 63. (3) Dynamic (DYN), at day 36, MR supply was reduced for each individual calf to 75% of the average voluntary consumption between day 29 and 35, then maintained for 9 days, reduced to 50% for 10 days, and to 25% for 9 days. The DYN calves received more MR during weaning than LIN calves, whereas STEP calves had intermediate MR intake. Starter intake was not affected by weaning method. The DYN calves (1.33±0.08 kg/day) grew faster and were heavier than STEP calves (1.10±0.08 kg/day) during post-weaning period, whereas no difference was observed between LIN calves (1.23±0.08 kg/day) and others. At days 70 and 84, concentrations of β-hydroxybutyric acid were higher in LIN calves compared to STEP and DYN calves. Hair cortisol concentrations were not affected by weaning method. During the gradual weaning process CP intake seemed to recovered earlier than metabolizable energy (ME) intake in all treatments, suggesting that ME rather than CP could be the first limiting factor for growth during weaning. These results highlight the post-weaning benefits of DYN and LIN weaning methods when compared with more abrupt step-down strategies.