DAIRY calves are typically separated from their mothers and housed by themselves for the first six to eight weeks of life.
A new study, published in PLoS One by researchers in the University of British Columbia's Animal Welfare Program, shows that calves raised individually have a harder time learning compared to calves socially housed with another calf.
Calves were initially taught a simple task: When they entered a test pen, they could approach a black bottle and receive milk or approach a white bottle and receive no reward (Diagram). All calves were quick learners and soon would approach only the black bottle.
At this point, the researchers switched the rules such that calves that approached the white bottle were rewarded with milk, but visits to the black bottle were not rewarded.
Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Becky Meagher explained what happened next: "Both the individually housed and pair-housed calves initially struggled with the new task, but after a few training sessions, the pair-housed calves began approaching the correct bottle while the individually housed calves more often persisted with the old (and now incorrect) strategy. This type of learning deficit has also been found in laboratory animals that are housed individually."
The simplest form of learning is habituation; animals typically respond strongly to novel stimulus but, over time, show a reduced response.
When the individually housed and pair-housed calves were first exposed to a novel object (in this case, a red rubber ball), they both showed interest, but after multiple exposures, the individually housed calves kept investigating the object while the pair-housed calves showed the expected habituation response and tended to ignore the ball.
According to the announcement, this study provides the first evidence that the common practice of individually housing calves causes cognitive deficits in the calves, but should this matter to dairy farmers?
"Learning difficulties — including trouble adjusting to changes in routine and environment — are likely to cause problems for farmers as well as the animals," University of British Columbia professor Dan Weary explained. "For example, later in life, calves are kept in groups and must learn to adjust to new surroundings, group mates, new types of feed, etc., and other research has shown that individually housed calves struggle with this transition, often eating less and losing weight relative to calves that were previously pair housed. We recommend that farmers use some form of social housing for their calves during the milk feeding period."
At the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, at least two global telecommunications firms announced "connected cow projects," according to Pauline Trotter, a principal analyst at Ovum, a business and technology analysis firm based in the U.K.
"MWC has been awash with connected pet and connected child solutions, and NTT DoCoMo (based in Japan) and Deutsche Telekom (based in Germany) have now announced connected cow projects. As amusing as it might sound, there is a serious side to their work. Both projects involve using sensors connected to a cellular gateway to monitor pregnant cows and ensure the safe delivery of calves," Trotter said.
"In NTT DoCoMo's case, the service is deployed to 30,000 cows and alerts farmers to changes in the temperature of the pregnant cows, which signal that delivery is about to begin. The solution has reduced the rate of calf deaths from 10% to less than 1%," she explained.
"The significance of these projects is that they suggest that sensors of all kinds are getting cheap enough to be offered in mass-market products. Furthermore, the combination of sensors with analytics and more usable front ends mean that the 'internet of things' is rapidly becoming a reality," Trotter said.
Proper silage covering
The decision to cover silage in a bunker silo or drive-over pile is not difficult to make, but choosing the right covering material can be.
A new multi-study analysis comparing total oxygen barrier film (Silostop) and standard polyethylene film, published recently in the journal Grass & Forage Science, showed that the oxygen barrier film was superior to standard polyethylene film in minimizing silage dry matter losses, reducing visible spoilage and improving aerobic stability of silage stored in bunkers and piles.
The analysis — completed by scientists from the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham and the University of Warwick department of statistics, both in the U.K. — included 41 trials from North America, South America, Australia and Europe, according to an announcement from Silostop.
The announcement added that comparisons of the two silage covering systems yielded favorable results for silage stored under the oxygen barrier film, including:
* Reduced dry matter losses during storage and feedout. Average losses of dry matter or organic matter from the top 4-24 in. of silage in bunkers and piles were 19.5% for standard film and 11.4% for the oxygen barrier film.
* Less visible spoilage. Inedible silage that had to be discarded from the top surface of the silos was 10.7% for standard film and 3.0% for the oxygen barrier film. This finding not only means less feed waste and, therefore, greater feed cost savings, but it also requires less labor for discarding top-layer spoilage and a reduced risk of feeding it to livestock.
* Increased aerobic stability. Aerobic stability averaged 75 hours for silage stored under standard film and 135 hours for silage stored under the oxygen barrier film. This represented an improvement in aerobic stability of 2.5 days for the oxygen barrier film.
The researchers said the improved aerobic stability was most likely due to restricted yeast and mold growth in silage stored under the oxygen barrier film.
Improved aerobic stability is particularly valuable when silage removal from a bunker or pile is slow and ambient temperatures are high, the announcement said.
20 years of rBST
Since the first commercial sale of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) on Feb. 4, 1994, it has helped deliver substantial economic and environmental benefits, in addition to helping today's dairy producers meet a growing demand for milk, according to an announcement from Elanco, which markets the product (Posilac).
To date, more than 37 million U.S. dairy cows have been supplemented with rBST over its 20 years in the marketplace, reducing producers' costs by about $6.3 billion over two decades. Further, rBST enables cows to produce about 10 lb. more milk per day.
In fact, Elanco said six U.S. dairy cows supplemented with rBST produce the same amount of milk as seven cows without it. Beyond the economic benefits, it also offers significant environmental resource savings. On average, over the past 20 years, rBST use has resulted in the need for:
* 3.2 million tons less feed annually (63.4 million tons cumulatively);
* 1,023 square miles less land use each year (20,464 square miles total), and
* An average of 95.6 billion gal. less water annually (1.9 trillion gal. total).
In addition, rBST use has resulted in:
* 4.6 million tons less manure produced each year (92 billion tons total), and
* 2.9 million metric tons less carbon dioxide equivalent produced annually (58.5 mmt total).
"Posilac plays an important role in reducing the environmental footprint of dairy production," explained Dennis Schaffler, senior director of Elanco's dairy business unit. "This is critically important given that the World Wildlife Fund reports the world is already overusing its resources, requiring 1.5 years to regenerate annual resource consumption."
Products like rBST will be even more important in the future, Elanco said. While global dairy productivity has doubled in the past 50 years, there's 14% less milk available per person today than in 1961, and that gap will likely grow.
The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization projects demand for meat, eggs and dairy products to increase by 60% in the coming decades as 3 billion people enter the middle class and demand a higher-quality diet.