Two-Step Weaning Method Reduces Stress in Beef Calves

A two-step method of weaning involving the use of anti-suckling nose flaps limits weaning behaviours associated with stress.
calendar icon 30 October 2012
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Animal Bytes

The ‘two step’ suckler calf weaning method, using anti-suckling nose flaps at weaning, confers a welfare advantage compared with traditional weaning of beef calves. That was the finding of a team of scientists at Writtle College, whose trial also noted an absence of vocalisations, a reduction in number of steps post-separation and the increase in rumination behaviour. All indicate reduced stress levels.

“Attempts have been made to reduce the acute stress of weaning on beef calves by divorcing the two stressors of a change in diet and separation from the dam,” the college’s Harriet Stevens told delegates at the British Society of Animal Science’s annual conference.

The use of anti-suckling nose flaps that allow continued maternal contact may provide a solution, but there is equivocal evidence for benefits in stress reduction. Previous work reported significant weight gains and decreased signs of stress using nose flaps compared with traditional weaning, but these positive results have been disputed.

“So the aim of our study was to clarify the effectiveness of this two step weaning method on reducing stress-related behaviour in beef calves,” said Miss Stevens.

Her team took 18 Belgium Blue cross-bred beef calves, all aged around 190 days old and kept on pasture with their mothers with access to a concentrate feeder. These were assigned to three treatment groups – two step, early and late.

After three days of behavioural observations, the two step group were prevented from suckling by a Quietwean nose flap. On day four the early group were transferred to another site and housed in a 200 m2 covered straw yard. And on day eight, the twostep and late groups were also transferred to the yard.

On days one to three, five to seven and nine to 11, each group was observed for one hour and time spent lying, walking, grazing, ruminating and any suckling attempts were recorded every 3 minutes, as well as total group vocalisations.

“And we found that prevention of suckling, whether it be by use of the nose flap or maternal separation, was associated with significant increases in lying bout length in the early and two step treatments (but not for the late calves) without any real differences in overall lying time,” said Miss Stevens.

“After weaning both early and late groups showed a large increase in their number of vocalisations made by the group from a very low baseline, but the two step calves only showed a slight increase following prevention of suckling and no vocalisations after subsequent separation from their dams,” she added.

Full details: Stevens H, Blackie N and Amory JR: “The effect of a two-step weaning method on the behaviour of six-month old Belgian Blue cross-bred beef calves.”

To view proceedings, Advances in Animal Biosciences, of all summaries presented at the Annual Conference and Powerpoint presentations, please click here.

October 2012

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