Reduce Cross Sucking in Group Raised Calves

Published on Thu, 08/10/2023 - 11:46am

Reduce Cross Sucking in Group Raised Calves.

 Article and photos courtesy of Milk Bar.

With rising costs, streamlining the calf rearing side of an operation is becoming increasingly important. The easiest way to reduce labor inputs is to pair or group calves when they are a few weeks old.

The research around the benefits of pair or group housing is extensive. A study at the University of British Columbia found that pair-housed calves continued to gain weight after weaning while individually housed calves experienced a lag in weight gain after weaning. Group or pair-housed calves’ benefit from group learning as found at Utah State University. Calves housed in groups learned to eat calf starter at an earlier age than calves housed individually. Early consumption promotes rumen development to increase feed efficiency, however, many producers are cautious about grouping calves because of the cross-suckling problems associated with paired or grouped calves.

Preventing cross suckling is key to successful pair or group housing
Calves are born with a suckling instinct, and to prevent starvation, the brain tells them when to drink and for how long.

The calf’s brain is wired for her to drink as long as it takes to drink from a cow, so if you feed a calf faster than a cow would, the calf will continue to suck after feeding because the brain is telling her to keep drinking.

Calves raised with their mother (indoors and in pasture systems) will typically suckle in 8–11 min bouts and will drink around 15 quarts per day at a speed of around 3.6 minutes per quart. Fröberg and Lidfors found that dairy calves raised with their mothers never displayed cross-sucking behaviors, so cross suckling is directly linked to the method and speed of milk delivery.

For example: A calf fed 4 quarts at ‘cow speed’ should take around 12 -15 minutes to drink. After drinking, she will be quiet and settled. Her suckling urge is satisfied, and she is content.

If she drinks 4 quarts in 8 minutes or less, then she will spend the next 4-5 minutes sucking until the brain chemistry tells her to stop.

Many dairy calves in the US are bucket-fed milk, an old-fashioned practice that does not support their natural suckling behavior. Grouped calves fed from buckets will cross suckle vigorously after feeding making this method unsuitable for paired or grouped calves.

Fast flow nipples that feed calves quickly also disrupt the suckling instinct. Cross suckling removes the keratin plug and leaves the developing teat canal open to infections. It is strongly linked to mastitis and blind quarters in first lactation heifers. By controlling the milk delivery and feeding calves at ‘cow speed’, calves are protected from the harmful effects of cross suckling caused by fast feeding.

Controlling milk flow reduces nutritional diarrhea to further improve calf barn efficiency
Traditional fast feeding methods play a big role in creating and adding to digestive stress.

When calves drink quickly, the ability of the milk to clot is compromised. Inadequate clotting allows excess sugar (lactose) to enter the intestines and produce a nutrient source for pathogens, such as E.Coli, who’s numbers multiply rapidly when in contact with raw milk or lactose. This is a leading cause of nutritional diarrhea in young calves.

“Diarrhea can usually be traced back to a failure of adequate milk digestion in the abdomen.

Nutritional diarrhea is simply the result of an oversupply of lactose in the intestines, caused by milk moving too rapidly out of the abomasum, so it cannot be broken down quickly enough.’

Source: Victoria Department of Primary Industries.

Reduce the stress.
Pairing or grouping calves reduces calf stress, while delivering milk slowly improves digestibility and lactose absorption, key to reducing nutritional diarrhea.

Studies show that a slow, controlled flow of milk into the calf has a positive effect on digestion by promoting good clotting and improving lactose absorption. Improving lactose and nutrient absorption increases average daily gains to build a more robust animal with a higher first lactation yield.

Allowing the calf to suckle at a controlled, ‘cow speed’ with a Milk Bar™ nipple maximizes saliva production and increases lactose absorption to reduce scours and time spent in the calf barn.

How to start pairing
Implementing paired or group housing just requires a little planning and once implemented will significantly reduce time and effort. Leading hutch manufacturers provide hutches for up to 5 calves, or if you have a barn, then a rejig of gates and partitions can transform your feeding from multiple single pens to a few groups.

Milk Bar™ are group feeding specialists and have developed systems for over 32 years to suit any environment. The system is simple and easy to follow.

Step 1: Train the calf
Use a yellow training nipple in either bottles, or single feeders depending on preference.

The yellow nipples have been specifically formulated for the calf to suckle with a natural technique to promote saliva production. Saliva is rich in lactoferrin-lactoperoxidase, an enzyme system with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that boosts the immunity of the calf. Salvia also balances the pH in the abomasum for correct curding to increase lactose and fat absorption.

Step 2: Grow the calf
After a few days on the yellow Milk Bar™ training nipples, switch the calves to a new black Milk Bar™

Nipple. Again, you can use bottles or single feeders depending on your preference.

Black Milk Bar™ nipples have a firmer formulation and are designed to control the milk to the same speed as a cow would. You can’t milk a cow quickly, and Milk Bar™ nipples replicate the natural speed that calves need to drink to reduce diarrhea and cross suckling. Maximum saliva is produced.

Step 3: Group the calves
In many countries, farmers group calves from day one, but whether you wait one week or two is personal preference and is determined by your farm facilities and calf numbers. The earlier you group or pair your calves, the sooner you can reduce your time and the sooner calves can benefit from social learning and interaction.

There are many types of group feeders and Milk Bar™ and Calf Buddy™ feeders have a variety of sizes and hooking systems so choose the style that best suits your operation.

Milk Bar™ nipples come in 4 designs to fit on bottles, buckets, group feeders or automatic systems so once you have chosen your preferred feeding system, you can add the nipple to enhance calf health.

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