Improving the health and welfare of dairy calves

PI: Sylvia Kehoe

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Kehoe is a professor of dairy science and an assistant chair of the department at UW–River Falls. She teaches courses on lactation and milk quality as well as animal welfare.

This project takes a three-pronged approach to addressing research questions related to calf welfare and health. The first project is to refine a disbudding paste applicator prototype. Although paste is an easier method of disbudding, it can be done wrong with serious ramifications to the calf, such as face burns. The prototype is a safe applicator that has the potential for patenting and wide distribution. The second aspect of the project is to survey mineral and vitamin concentrations in calves who are fed pasteurized waste milk. In general, these calves do not eat as much grain starter due to their high intake of milk. With a lack of vitamin and mineral intake, calves can become deficient over time which will impair immune function and growth. The final project is an evaluation of a salt supplement during weaning and post-weaning as a tool to provide nutritional benefits, reduce stress and provide distraction. Research has shown that if calves receive enrichment, it can help them deal with stressful situations. Enrichment can consist of something extra that calves can lick or suck on. Adding a hanging salt block to calf pens should provide nutritive enrichment without overdosing the calf on any minerals since they cannot intake enough to make a difference. It will provide distraction and reduce stress. These three projects are aimed at helping farmers raise their calves with less labor, better health and less stress.