Ethological Assessment of Calves’ Welfare According to Weaning Method

Radu Ionel Neamț, Stelian Acatincăi, Daniela E. Ilie, Ludovic T. Cziszter



Weaning is a major stress factor for calves. The interruption of milk diet affects the calves’ welfare directly due to changes in specific behaviour, and indirectly, due to the effects of the weaning crisis induced. This study was conducted on a herd of 48 calves of Romanian Spotted breed, Flechvieh type. Gradual weaning with a 10-day pre-weaning period, was applied to a group of 30 calves, while 18 calves were weaned abruptly. Ethological records focused on behavioural patterns such as frequency and intensity of intake, habitat exploration and agonistic behaviour. Data processing, using descriptive statistics model, highlights behavioural differences between these two groups of calves. Gradually weaned calves allocated 7.4±0.26 intake bouts/day, totalling 143.56±5.19 min./day, compared with only 5.7±0.39 intake bouts/day with a total of 92.34 min./day for abruptly weaned calves (P<0.001). Abrupt weaning significant increased (P<0.01) the frequency of habitat exploration events (9.4±1.12 vs 8.2±0.97 event/day) and also increased frequency (6.36±1.19 vs 3.09±0.23 events/day) and intensity of agonistic behaviour (75.68±6.22 s/day vs. 22.18±0.92 s/day, P<0.001) compared with gradual weaning. Gradual weaning kept levels of stress at low values and decreased the frequency and intensity of unwanted behavioural patterns. Maintaining increased frequencies and intensities of intake behaviour patterns positively influence calves performance with direct effects on future reproductive and productive performance.

Keywords: behaviour, calves welfare, weaning method



behaviour, calves welfare, weaning method

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