Invited review: The effect of milk feeding practices on dairy calf behavior, health, and performance—A systematic review

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The aim of this systematic review was to summarize the literature assessing the effects of milk feeding practices on behavior, health, and performance on dairy calves. Peer-reviewed, published articles, written in English, directly comparing the effects of milk allowance, milk feeding methods, or milk feeding frequency on dairy calves were eligible for inclusion. Outcome measures could include sucking behavior, sucking on a teat (nutritive sucking, non-nutritive sucking on a teat), abnormal sucking behavior (non-nutritive sucking on pen fixtures, other oral behaviors, or cross-sucking), signs of hunger (vocalizations or unrewarded visits at the milk feeder), activity (lying time or locomotor play), feeding behavior (milk intake, starter intake, milk meal duration, or starter meal duration), growth (body weight or average daily gain), and health (occurrence of diarrhea, respiratory disease, or mortality). We conducted 2 targeted searches using Web of Science and PubMed to identify key literature. The resulting articles underwent a 2-step screening process. This process resulted in a final sample of 94 studies. The majority of studies investigated milk allowance (n = 69). Feeding higher milk allowances had a positive or desirable effect on growth, reduced signs of hunger, and increased locomotor play behavior during the preweaning period, whereas starter intake was reduced. Studies addressing health pointed to no effect of milk allowance, with no consistent evidence indicating that higher milk allowances result in diarrhea. Studies addressing milk feeding methods (n = 14) found that feeding milk by teat reduced cross-sucking and other abnormal oral behaviors. However, results on the effect of access to a dry teat were few and mixed. Milk feeding frequency (n = 14 studies) appeared to have little effect on feed intakes and growth; however, there is some evidence that calves with lower feeding frequency experience hunger. Overall, findings strongly suggest feeding higher volumes of milk using a teat; however, further work is needed to determine the optimal feeding frequency for dairy calves.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)5853-5879
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Dairy Science Association

    Research areas

  • feeding frequency, feeding method, milk allowance

ID: 364545262