Separating Cow and Calves
Dairy farmers have been encouraged to remove calves from cows for a few major reasons:
- To provide adequate colostrum (first milk) to calves as soon as possible after birth, which is essential to ensure sufficient passive transfer of immunity. Even calves left with their dam may not drink enough to ensure immuno-transfer, therefore farmers often provide additional colostrum (Wesselink et al, 1999)
- To break the transmission of Johne’s Disease, which is a significant endemic notifiable disease in Australia, by removing the calves from the presence of adult cow’s excrement (Doré et al, 2012)
- If removing calves, removing them as young as possible is thought to be the least stressful for the cow (Weary and Chua, 2000)
The practical aspect also cannot be ignored. In a large, grass-fed herd which walks up to three kilometres to fresh pasture, physically moving hundreds of calves would be logistically difficult.
Calves in Australia are generally raised in sheds in group pens on bedding. More information about this is available in the Caring for Calves section.
This is an area of renewed research, as the welfare of both the cow and calf in these systems have been questioned.
Dairy Australia made a small investment to investigate the current scientific literature on separating cows and calves. Two literature reviews have been published:
- Invited review: A systematic review of the effects of early separation on dairy cow and calf health
- Invited review: A systematic review of the effects of prolonged cow-calf contact on behavior, welfare, and productivity
This is an area requiring further investigation to the practicalities and the impact on animal health and welfare.