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Wisconsin farmer-reported housing and milk-feeding practices for preweaned dairy calves.

J. Van Os

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06-23-2020

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Abstract:

T45
Wisconsin farmer-reported housing and milk-feeding practices for preweaned dairy calves.
J. Van Os*1, C. Winder2, M. Akins1, T. Kohlman3, T. Ollivett4, H. Schlesser3, B. Schley3, S. Stuttgen3, J. Versweyveld3. 1Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI, 2Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph Guelph, ON, Canada, 3Division of Extension, University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI, 4School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI.

Research has indicated many benefits of socially rearing pre-weaned calves, but little is known about current industry practices. Our objective was to characterize calf-rearing practices in WI. A Qualtrics survey was distributed to dairy farmers and calf raisers. On average, WI respondents (n = 202) had 103 milk-fed calves and 469 milking cows. Most farms (164, 81%) housed calves only individually, although 38 (19%) housed some heifers socially. Of farms using social housing, 23 (61%) kept calves in groups of 2—8, and 15 (39%) had larger groups. The most common housing was indoor pens with manual feeding (17 farms, 45%); 13 farms (34%) had indoor pens with automatic feeders, and 8 farms (21%) kept some of their heifers outside in “super hutches” or adjoined hutches. The most common maximum age range within groups was <1 wk (18 farms, 47%), with most calves entering groups at ≤14 d old (24 farms, 63%). Most farms with social housing (74%) fed milk or replacer through a teat (bottle, teat bucket, or automatic feeder) for most of the milk-feeding stage, but only 24% of farms with only individual housing fed through a teat. Four-week old calves were fed milk or replacer at a volume of 6.9 � 2.4 vs. 7.4 � 2.3 L/d (mean � SD) on farms housing their calves only individually vs. using social groups, respectively (>97% response rate). In rating the level of satisfaction with their calves' growth performance, 87 vs. 86% of those using only individual vs. some social housing indicated they were somewhat or extremely satisfied (>97% response rate). In rating the level of satisfaction with their calves' health, 84 vs. 89% of those using only individual vs. some social housing indicated they were somewhat or extremely satisfied (100% response rate). Of the farmers using only individual housing, 64 (39%) indicated they were interested in learning more about social rearing. These results demonstrate that many WI farmers are managing pre-weaned calves in social groups using a range of practices, and with the majority expressing satisfaction with the outcomes. This information can be used to better target future research and extension education programs.

Keywords: survey, welfare, heifers.