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Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Pp. 350-355 in Fifth International Dairy Housing Proceedings of the 29-31 January 2003 Conference (Fort Worth, Texas USA)  701P0203.(doi:10.13031/2013.11643)
Authors:   T. Eberhardt, H. Grimm, T. Richter, P. Savary
Keywords:   Calf, Calves, Behavior, Automatic, Detection, Diseases

Total calf losses during rearing can be up to 15% during the first 6 weeks of life. Calf diseases cause high costs for veterinary treatment, lower growth rates of the calves, and are a problem for animal welfare. Continuous animal supervision is of great importance, but almost impossible with larger groups. Modern automatic feeders facilitate feeding of young calves, allow a more physiological uptake of milk (replacer), and give us the chance to record their behavior during feed uptake.

Aims of the study were to check if established (uptake of milk, number of visits at the feeder station) or new parameters give indications that the animal is undergoing some infection. These new parameters were behavior during sucking - drinking time or velocity, pauses during sucking, butts with head against the teat - or after sucking - sham sucking, changing the sucked teat, butts. Vacuum level at the artificial teat(s) and movements of these teats were recorded (50 measurements/sec.) online and used to calculate traits. A veterinarian and the responsible person checked health status twice per day. Behavior after drinking, i.e. when the supply of liquid milk replacer was shut off automatically after intake of 2 to 3 L milk, showed significant differences between "healthy" and "ill" days of the same calf. Even one or two "day(s) before ill" most calves showed changes in behavior (although not always significant). Indication of health status by these parameters may depend on illness type, especially if the calf suffers from fever before or at the observable beginning of the illness. Observations and development of calculation programs will be continued. If calves can be detected "ill" at such an early disease state, treatment costs may be reduced and calf welfare enhanced.

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