Document Actions

Current Projects

Reduction of weaning stress in cow and calf in cow-calf dairy rearing 

Calves in conventional dairy production are, for the most part, separated from their mothers within the first 24 hours after birth and artificially raised using feeder buckets or automatic drinkers. However, in response to increasing consumer demand for more animal-friendly production systems, there is growing interest among some dairy farms, particularly organic ones, to raise calves with their mothers again. This so-called mother-bonded rearing of calves has many advantages. The animals can act out their social behavior, for example licking each other, and the calves learn the rules of the herd from their mothers in a playful manner. Furthermore, mother-bound rearing can ensure very good development of the calves, which can be measured, for example, in higher daily weight gains. Also, the calves show less mutual sucking. This is a behavioral disorder caused by an unsatisfied sucking need and can lead to health disorders such as inflammation of the suckled body parts or bezoar formation in the sucking animals.
However, there are also disadvantages to mother-based rearing. For example, both cows and calves show strong stress reactions if the cow-calf bond that has been created has to be severed again later in the course of weaning. This is because even in mother-bonded rearing in organic farming, this takes place much earlier - usually at three to four months - than in nature, where weaning usually takes place after more than eight months. In dairy farming, this separation often occurs not only earlier than in nature, but additionally abruptly. This is a very stressful situation for cow and calf.
In this project in cooperation with the Thünen Institute for Organic Agriculture, the question is investigated which weaning procedure causes the least stress for cow and calf and is therefore particularly well suited to sever the cow-calf bond that has developed in the course of cow-bonded calf rearing. For this purpose, two different procedures are first tested in experiments with regard to their stress load for the animals during weaning. Subsequently, different variants of weaning already applied in practical farms will be examined with regard to the stress load for cow and calf. The results of the study will later contribute to the development of a guideline for successful milk production with cow-tied calf rearing. In this way, the transfer of knowledge into practice is to be ensured in order to provide interested farms with well-founded information on which weaning procedure is best suited to which conditions, so that ultimately an improvement in the conditions in livestock farming can be promoted.
Project member: Anina Vogt

Calf CompassKaelberkompass

The magazine Milchpraxis initiated the Calf Compass project and has already been able to win several well-known companies as partners. An alliance of experts from the calf industry, veterinarians, farmers and scientists has been formed to optimise calf rearing on farms in a comparative process.
With a team of selected farms, together with the farm veterinarians, selected parameters are first collected and recorded during the rearing phase. The comparison within the group and the exchange are to motivate and show where a farm is sufficiently positioned and where improvements can still be achieved. The rearing of calves and cattle should no longer be treated stepmotherly, but should become the focus of individual farms. After all, this is where the potential of future generations of dairy cows lies. And there are still many adjusting screws that we can turn together.
A calf compass working group has been formed around this project at the Institute of Animal Husbandry. These are, among others, students and PhD students who voluntarily support this data collection and would like to draw further conclusions for their theses.
Project member: Jennifer Stiehl


(Better) intuitive feeding systems for dairy calves

Calves in conventional dairy production are mostly separated from their mothers directly after birth and fed by personnel using drinking buckets or bottles with teats. Many calves have problems in understanding the artificial teat and must first be trained by the staff, which can be very time-consuming depending on the calf. Problem drinkers may require individual attention for up to 4 days after birth. However, calves that have trouble drinking from the feeder buckets and do not get enough attention from staff may miss important meals, and good care is critical to the health of the calf, especially in the first few days. In addition to stress induced by hunger, the calf also becomes undersupplied, making it more susceptible to disease.
In nature, calves instinctively seek their way to their mother's udder within the first few hours after birth to ingest colostrum. The calves' udder search is largely by the "trial and error method" as they search the mother's body with their mouths and/or tongues. Behavioral studies have described the appearance and conformation of the dam's lower abdomen and udder as a critical factor in the time from birth to first suckling by (motivated) calves.
In this project, the acceptance rate of different calf feeding systems simulating different anatomical stimuli of the dam as well as different suckling positions will be compared. The aim is to increase the acceptance speed of the artificial feeding systems by the calves in order to reduce the working time required for training the calves (labor management advantages) and to contribute to an improvement in the care of the calves (advantages for animal welfare) in situations where the personnel has little time available and not all calves can be optimally cared for and trained.

Project member: Anina Vogt

Green Dairy

The project’s aim is to develop innovative crop-livestock systems that foster the public acceptance of dairy farming in mixed farming systems on the basis of their ecological and economic sustainability as well as their high level of animal welfare. Different project areas (animal, plant, environment) will assess the effects of different levels of feeding intensity (high-, low-input) on ecology, economy and animal welfare of dairy cows and their offspring. 

Project member: Noemi Santo