Monthly Archives: November 2012

Latest weaning research at the Beef Unit…

Lately I have worked with Dr. Mark Alley, Dr. Matt Poore, and Dr. Sharon Freeman from NC State University on a research project underway at the CEFS Pasture-Based Beef Unit. It’s that time of year when we begin weaning the calves from their mothers onto pasture, and this can be one of the most stressful times of their lives! The current research project aims to compare three different weaning strategies to determine which is the most beneficial to the calf during this period: 1) late weaning, in which the calves are left with their mothers longer than the others, 2) abrupt weaning, and 3) quiet wean nose clips, which are designed to flip down over the calf’s mouth to prevent attempts to nurse.

The important things to assess during a weaning study are the calf’s general behavior and demeanor, feeding behaviors (including grazing, rumination, and attempts to nurse from mom), weight gain, and general activity level. We observed the calves and carefully documented their behaviors for three 1-hour observation sessions per day, for two different periods: 1) the week before weaning, and 2) the week after weaning.. In addition to our behavior reports, some of the calves wore activity monitors that recorded general activity through vibrations (similar to the pedometers that runners use to keep up with their speed and distance traveled). The calf above is sporting an activity monitor that is taped to a collar around its neck. That way, we have a 24/7 activity measurement that we can match up with our behavior reports during the observation period to see which calves were more active. If a calf is calm, it tends to ruminate while lying or standing and walk steadily to and from the hay bales, water trough, and salt lick. If a calf is stressed, it will pace along the fence line and bawl for its mom. We also weigh the calves at certain intervals to assess weight gain, which would give us an idea of which weaning strategy interrupts their feeding (and subsequently their growth) the least.

This is just some of the exciting new research happening at CEFS to improve our food animal welfare!

Lastly, here is a photo of me talking to Dean Richard Linton of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences about the weaning study at the CEFS Pasture-Based Beef Unit! Read more about the Dean’s visit to CEFS!


Busy, Busy, Busy

And just like that, we are a little over halfway with our calving season, PHEW!! These cows definitely keep us busy! These two ladies have recently calved and are part of our “treated” group of cows. Their milk still consists partly of nutrient-rich colostrum, so their fresh morning milk is saved in a special tank to feed to our growing calves. After around 5 days post-calving, we take samples of milk from the “treated” cows and perform a somatic cell count (SCC) to determine milk quality and assess overall cow health. The higher the SCC reading, the more pathogens the cow’s immune system is fighting! So a low SCC means a healthy cow who is a candidate for being moved to our “milk” group. Although most cows do not receive antibiotics, milk from each cow is tested to confirm that there are no antibiotic residues before she joins the “milk” group.” Once she is in the “milk” group, her milk is collected and refigerated in our tank until the big milk truck takes it away to be pasteurized.

At the CEFS Cherry Dairy, we manage a research population of dairy cows–half of which is managed conventionally, and half of which is managed as closely to organic as possible without buying organic feed (which can be quite costly to the farmer!) That way, we can compare organic and conventional management strategies in terms of milk production, milk quality, and disease susceptibility within the herd.Our little calves are growing up so fast! This week we will move a third group of calves that are old enough to be in the group-rearing pasture. While in the group rearing pasture, we have to keep a close watch on each calf’s milk intake to make sure even the littlest ones get a fair chance to drink. It’s also important to make sure that the greedier ones do not drink too much milk, or they will get diarrhea!

So far, I’ve assisted two cows who needed help delivering, but both were fairly easy and their calves are alive and well. The rest of the pregnant moms are still playing the waiting game!