Early separation of dairy cows and calves after birth is an animal welfare issue. It is practiced on most dairy farms, including organic ones. The (long-term) effects of natural rearing and feeding strategies on health, welfare and economic performance need further investigation in order to solve current problems and to find best practises.
This projects aims to:
- identify innovative youngstock rearing systems implemented by pioneer farmers that allow calf-cow contact across Europe
- evaluate the impact of these systems on cow and calf welfare and economic performance
- test the hypothesis that contents of immunoglobulins in colostrum and in milk might be stimulated either due to cow-calf contact or due to feed supplements
- study the effect of increased amounts of milk fed to organic dairy calves in terms of welfare, natural behaviour and performance
- assess long-term effects of different environmental and feeding conditions during rearing on health, longevity and fertility later in life
- evaluate the potential of plant bioactive compounds in pasture-based production systems to improve protein use efficiency, animal health, and immune response (natural anthelmintic) as well as product quality
- share project results with farmers, advisors, and other stakeholders through workshops, leaflets, guidelines, practice abstracts, articles, websites and scientific publications.
The project will close the research gap regarding natural calf rearing and feeding systems. Different youngstock rearing practices will be evaluated concerning their health and longevity as dairy cows. Optimised grazing and feeding systems are important for many organic farms in extensive grassland areas in Europe. Natural, locally available herbal bioactive feed compounds will be tested and better known as a result of this project. Recommendations from this project will help to reduce the use of antibiotics and anthelmintics as well as concentrates while maintaining adequate production levels. Dam rearing systems will be promoted, contributing to better animal welfare and taking account of a major consumer wish.
Farmers, advisors, and other stakeholders will benefit from the results of this project through diverse dissemination activities such as workshops and leaflets, guidelines, practice abstracts, articles, websites and scientific publications.