Improving Postpartum Health of Cows and Calves

Newborn calves are routinely separated from their dams within 24 hours of birth, based on the idea that early calf-cow separation improves calf health and reduces the stress of separation for both calf and dam. The practice has come under scrutiny, however, for potentially reducing animal welfare and wellbeing. Moreover, the risk of disease and mortality among newborn calves remains stagnant at unacceptably high levels.

Sabine Mann, Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, is leading a multi-institutional team of researchers to evaluate the short- and long-term effects of prolonging direct contact between newborn calves and their dams. The team—which includes researchers at Cornell, Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State University, and Harper Adams University in the United Kingdom—will compare the effects of early versus delayed separation according to four measures of welfare and wellbeing: 1) behavior and mood as evidenced by activity, stress behaviors, physiological outcomes, and social interaction; 2) calf health, growth, and immune response; 3) cow milk production and udder health; and 4) the health of the gut and respiratory microbiomes of the calf and the robustness of the milk microbiome of the dam.

The results will enable dairy producers and their advisers to evaluate current animal management practices based on empirical data. This project will contribute urgently needed evidence for best practices regarding cow-calf separation, with the dual goals of improving the welfare and wellbeing of dairy cattle and addressing consumer concerns in an unbiased and scientific manner.

NIFA Award Number: 2022-67015-36312

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$800 Thousand spanning 4 years

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