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How to Limit Cross-Suckling in Calves

05 January 2015

Monitoring cross-sucking is worthwhile due to its impact on mastitis, advises the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association.

Cross-sucking among dairy heifers can occur before and after weaning. However, it most often is seen during the 10 to 15 minutes immediately following milk feeding of preweaned calves.

A March 2012 Journal of Dairy Science article lists control of cross-sucking as one of 10 farm-specific interventions that should be in place on any farm to prevent and control heifer mastitis. Sam Leadley, calf management specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates in western New York, discussed ways to control cross-sucking in calves and heifers in his September Calving Ease newsletter.

“Cross-sucking is considered abnormal behaviour,” Mr Leadley writes. “It is not observed in calf-dam pairs.”

The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association states that minimising cross-sucking is important due to it effect on mastitis in the herd. 

 Here are some practices that can help minimize this behavior:

  • House calves individually rather than in groups.
  • In a group-housing system, use headlocks at feeding stations and keep calves restrained for 10 to 15 minutes after milk feeding.
  • Provide a teat on which calves can suck. Regardless of feeding method (mob vs. ad-lib acidified vs. automatic), the availability of a teat to suck on can reduce cross-sucking.
  • Observe calves frequently, watching for repetitive behavior to identify calves exhibiting cross-sucking behaviour.

Among weaned-calf pairs, devices can be used on calves to stop sucking behaviour, Mr Leadley says. A quick Internet search yielded options such as a lightweight, plastic anti-sucking device that can be attached to a calf’s nose.

Cross-sucking in dairy calves and heifers is not something to ignore. Its impact on the udder health of heifers makes prevention and control efforts hugely.

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