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Open AccessArticle

Weaning Holstein Calves at 17 Weeks of Age Enables Smooth Transition from Liquid to Solid Feed

Institute of Animal Science, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Hohenheim, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany
Institute of Animal Nutrition, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1132;
Received: 23 October 2019 / Revised: 4 November 2019 / Accepted: 9 December 2019 / Published: 12 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Calf and Heifer Feeding and management)
Weaning calves from liquid to solid feed can be a stressful event in their life and can affect growth, development and welfare. It is commonly done at the age of 7 to 8 weeks on dairy farms, but weaning at a greater age could potentially reduce the associated stress. Therefore, it might improve growth rates and enable a smooth transition to an adult liver metabolism. To confirm this hypothesis this study evaluated the effect of two different weaning ages (7 vs. 17 weeks of age) on female Holstein calves. Furthermore, the effect of mothers’ parity was analyzed (primiparous vs. multiparouos). Primiparous cows were often immature and still developing during their first pregnancy. This can lead to negative intrauterine conditions and result in long-term changes in the calf’s metabolism. Late-weaned calves consumed high amounts of concentrate feed before weaning despite their high milk replacer intake, indicating the maturation of their rumen. In addition, they experienced a smooth transition to an adult liver metabolism as reflected by steady plasma glucose and cholesterol concentrations. Later weaning corrected the reduced growth of calves born to primiparous cows as well, indicating that those particularly benefitted from late weaning. All benefits were indicated by slower changes of blood metabolites and higher growth rates, which might lead to better health and productivity in their subsequent lifetime.
Development of calves depends on prenatal and postnatal conditions. Primiparous cows were still maturing during pregnancy, which can lead to negative intrauterine conditions and affect the calf’s metabolism. It is hypothesized that weaning calves at higher maturity has positive effects due to reduced metabolic stress. We aimed to evaluate effects of mothers’ parity and calves’ weaning age on growth performance and blood metabolites. Fifty-nine female Holstein calves (38.8 ± 5.3 kg birth weight, about 8 days old) were used in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment with factors weaning age (7 vs. 17 weeks) and parity of mother (primiparous vs. multiparous cows). Calves were randomly assigned one of these four groups. Live weight, live weight gain and morphometry increased over time and were greater in calves weaned later. Metabolic indicators except total protein were interactively affected by time and weaning age. Leptin remained low in early-weaned calves born to primiparous cows, while it increased in the other groups. The results suggest that weaning more mature calves has a positive effect on body growth, and calves born to primiparous cows particularly benefit from this weaning regimen. It also enables a smooth transition from liquid to solid feed, which might reduce the associated stress of weaning. View Full-Text
Keywords: weaning age; Holstein calves; growth; milk replacer; metabolism; development weaning age; Holstein calves; growth; milk replacer; metabolism; development
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Schwarzkopf, S.; Kinoshita, A.; Kluess, J.; Kersten, S.; Meyer, U.; Huber, K.; Dänicke, S.; Frahm, J. Weaning Holstein Calves at 17 Weeks of Age Enables Smooth Transition from Liquid to Solid Feed. Animals 2019, 9, 1132.

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