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.
Received: 23 October 2019
Revised: 4 November 2019
Accepted: 9 December 2019
Published: 12 December 2019
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.