December 5, 2023

Calves that don’t get enough milk can’t learn properly

In practice, calves get around half of the required quantity of milk and are rapidly switched to strong feed (or sold for massacre). Previous research study has actually already shown that this slows down their advancement and impacts their health, however there hasnt been much research into what calves feel.

When calves do not get enough milk (which happens almost everywhere in the dairy market), they experience negative physical and psychological impacts. The researchers who performed the research study hope this can encourage farmers to provide much better conditions for calves and their mothers.

Like human beings, cows just produce milk after they are pregnant. This means that dairy cows need to bring to life a minimum of one calf per year to continue producing milk, so theyre constantly artificially inseminated for this purpose– typically after just 2-3 months of delivering. The goal of the practice is to take as much milk as possible for sale, so calves receive much less milk than they usually need.

The hole-boarded area. Illustration: Kathryn J. McLellan through Bristol University.

To study this, scientists from the University of Bristol used a test where calves have to keep in mind the location of 4 milk-filled bottles among 15 bottles. They wanted to see whether an abrupt milk limitation (halving the milk consumption from 12 to 6 liters daily) would affect their capacity to keep in mind where the rewards are and whether it would interrupt the capacity to relearn the locations after altering locations of the bottles.

In all cases, the milk limitation impacted the calves ability to discover and keep in mind, a result that is consistent with them being too hungry to focus. Although the scientists stop brief of claiming that, and merely state that the impact on cognition is constant with the negative experience of feeling hunger, its still a concerning animal well-being issue.

Dr Ben Lecorps, Animal Welfare Lecturer in the Bristol Veterinary School, describes:

” Our outcomes reveal that calves capability to focus is seriously reduced when their milk allowance is unexpectedly reduced suggesting that they more than likely experience unfavorable feelings connected with appetite.

” Our results support the growing body of evidence that weaning from milk can cause hunger, especially when animals are pushed to change to solid feed (by reducing milk allowances) abruptly. Our research study also reveals that it might be tough for calves to learn brand-new jobs when they are experiencing high levels of cravings, which is concerning since it might slow down how quick they discover to feed from another source.”

Journal Reference: Hunger impacts cognitive performance of dairy calves by Benjamin Lecorps, Raphaela E. Woodroffe, Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk and Daniel M. Weary in Royal Society Biology Letters [open access]

” We need to know more about what calves feel if we want to change regular farm practices to improve their welfare. We might never ever be able to totally comprehend what a calf thinks or feels, this type of research study gets us closer to this goal.

Researchers hope that this type of study will press for much better animal welfare standards.