Improvement of dairy farms economics requires intensification, automatic milking, and artificial rearing methods. The ability to express normal behavior is one of the five freedoms to achieve animal welfare, whereas the display of abnormal behaviors is considered as an indicator of poor welfare. Cross-sucking is defined as sucking any body parts of pen-mate calves, whereas inter-sucking in cows is defined as sucking the udder or udder area. Previous studies showed that self- and cross-sucking during the calf-hood period could be a causal factor of milk sucking in adulthood.
To investigate the effects of cross-sucking among calves and inter-sucking in cows on animal health status and performance.
MATERIALS AND METHODS:
Gathering information from customized questionnaires, the study of the breeding records, recording of self- and cross-sucking behaviors, and health status of calves till weaning, and dairy cows before milking were performed in two governmental farms under the same managemental conditions in Sohag and Qena governorates.
Cross-sucking appeared in calves at the 2nd week of age followed by abscesses at ears and navels that were observed within cross-sucker calves. Milk sucking was higher in primiparous than multiparous cows during the second lactation period, as primiparous cows start to suck mostly around the 4th month of milking. Mastitis and elongation of the front teats were observed in sucker cows. Suffered animals had body condition scoring 3.5 or less. Interestingly, most of the cows displaying self-sucking were sucking another cow and were experienced self- or cross-sucking in their calf-hood. The use of pronged nose-rings was ineffective in preventing milk sucking and all cows were ultimately culled at the end of the season.
The results of this study demonstrate the health problems of abnormal oral behaviors in terms of developed ears and navels abscesses in cross-sucker calves, and mastitis and teat deformities in milk-sucker cows. Furthermore, indexes that lead to oral satisfaction should be taken in priorities of farm managers to effectively reduce or prevent cross-sucking in calves. Culling of cows and heifers suffering from sucking would be the ultimate uneconomic alternative in case of persistent suckers.