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Dairy farming: cows may be milked even when they are suckling calves

Until now, the Swiss Dairy Hygiene Ordinance required the delivery of "the whole output of a milking". As from the beginning of July 2020, there will no longer be obstacles to the marketing of milk from mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing. The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) has been investigating this animal-friendly, but also demanding, form of husbandry for many years and offers qualified advice on this subject.

At the end of May, the Swiss Federal Council amended the Dairy Hygiene Ordinance and adapted it to the corresponding EU Regulation (1308/2013, Annex VII): from July 2020, it will no longer be necessary to define milk as "the whole output of a milking" in Switzerland either. This amendment to the Regulation removes a major obstacle to the rearing of calves by their mothers and dams and promotes the growth of robust calves.

Allow natural behaviour in the early rearing phase

"We expect that more and more farmers will no longer separate their calves from the dairy cows after birth and will enable the calves and cows to behave largely naturally in the early rearing phase," says Anet Spengler Neff, Head of the Animal Breeding and Husbandry Group at FiBL. "Mother-bonded or fostered calf rearing is sympathetic and animal-friendly and is desired by consumers. At the same time, it also places high demands on the animal owners," she continues.

"Mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing requires that the animals are closely observed on a daily basis and that the system is flexibly adapted to the situation and the individual animal", says FiBL consultant Claudia Schneider. "Because the animals react very differently. During the time a cow is suckling a calf, milking is more difficult because the milk is partly retained in the udder. During the suckling weeks, milk quantity and content measurements are therefore often inaccurate. In addition, the amount of milk that the farm can sell is decreasing," she explains.

Loud mooing of cow and calf

Not all practical difficulties of mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing have been solved yet. "For example, it is problematic for breeding farms that their suckling cows often give lower milk quantities with different fat contents for several months during milk inspections," Anet Spengler Neff points out.

In addition, calves are usually weaned by the mother at a few weeks or months, earlier than the natural weaning age of eight to eleven months. In a first phase, this results in dissatisfied animals, evident by the loud mooing of cow and calf. There are some approaches to solutions but these cannot be implemented in every farm.

Start with few animals

Claudia Schneider advises: "If you want to start with mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing, you can start with just a few animals and gain experience step by step without having to make large invest-ments. If the procedures are clear, stable conversions can then be planned if necessary". Interested farmers can be inspired by video farm portraits on, which show various forms of mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing. Within the framework of the platform for mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing, periodic exchange meetings for the agricultural sector are also organised.

FiBL has been conducting research and providing advice to promote mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing for years. The research institute works together with farmers who have tested various systems in practice and have had trials carried out on their farms. As early as 2011, FiBL published the first edition of the leaflet on mother-bound calf rearing for farmers. This has since been translated into English, French, Italian and Polish and was reissued in 2018.

Further information

FiBL contacts


  • Albert Koechlin Stiftung
  • Coop Sustainability Fund
  • CORE Organic Cofund / Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG
  • Lidl Switzerland
  • Stiftung Dreiklang
  • Four paws


Video Examples of mother-bonded and fostered calf rearing (German, French subtitles) Examples of mother-bonded and fostered calf feeding (German, French subtitles) Mechthild Knösel explains mother-bonded calf rearing on her farm (German, French subtitles)

About FiBL

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is one of the world's leading research institutes on organic agriculture. FiBL's strengths are interdisciplinary research, joint innovations with farmers and the food industry, and rapid knowledge transfer. There are 280 employees at the various FiBL sites.