Dairy cow and calf behavior and productivity when maintained together on a pasture-based system

  • Sarah E., Mac (Livestock Production and Welfare Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney) ;
  • Sabrina, Lomax (Livestock Production and Welfare Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney) ;
  • Cameron E.F., Clark (Livestock Production and Welfare Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney)
  • Received : 2022.04.04
  • Accepted : 2022.06.13
  • Published : 2023.02.01


Objective: We determined the impact of maintaining pasture-based dairy cows and calves together over 100 days on cow milk production, cow and calf behavior, and calf liveweight and carcass quality. Methods: Six Holstein-Friesian cows and their male calves were monitored for 106±8.6 days. Cows were temporarily separated twice a day for milking with calves remaining in the paddock. Cow and calf behaviors were recorded via scan sampling at 6 different timepoints, for the first 7 days and twice a week thereafter. Calves were weighed weekly and immediately processed for meat quality and rumen development analysis at 106±8.6 days. Daily cow milk yields were collected from enrollment until 109±8.6 days (3 days post-weaning). Results: The average daily gain of calves was 1.4±0.73 kg/d, with an average carcass dressing percentage of 59%. Calves had the greatest frequency of observed close proximity to cow and suckling in the first two weeks and decreased with experiment duration. During separation for milking, cow vocalizations and attempts to return to their calf decreased over time. Reticulorumen weight was on target for calf age, but as a proportion of total stomach weight was lower than industry averages of calves the same age due to the larger abomasum. Cows produced an average of 12±7.6 kg of milk yield per day over the 3-days before the calves were weaned and increased to mean of 31±8.3 kg/d the 3 days after weaning, indicating a consumption of close to 20 kg per calf per day. Conclusion: The impact of a pasture-based cow-calf rearing system on cow and calf behavior and the potential for high levels of calf liveweight gain when provided ad-libitum milk and feed were determined. Further research is required to determine the practicality of replicating such systems with large herds and impact on reared calves post-weaning.



We thank Lara Sirovica, Daniel Weary, and Marina Von Keyserlingk from the University of British Columbia for their contribution to our work. Andrew Carlyon for his technical support, Kehinde Oluboyede, Keegan Byrnes, Linda Buckley, Hugh Courts, and Adam Le Breton (Corstorphine Dairy, USYD, Australia) for enabling this work on farm. We also thank Dr. Marina Gimeno for her assistance with rumen dissection and Dr. Evelyn Hall (USYD, Australia) for her statistical advice.


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