While pair and group housing for calves has shown many benefits, including improved starter intake and greater average daily gain, there is one behavior that can’t be ignored, and that is cross sucking. Cross sucking is especially problematic when calves are sucking on the navel or udder of another calf.

During the July Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, veterinarian Whitney Knauer, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Veterinary Medicine, shared recommendations that can help reduce the risk of cross sucking.

First, she said to feed calves a high milk allowance. Plan to feed at least 1.8 pounds of dry matter per day of high-quality milk or milk replacer. Greater amounts of milk occupy calves longer at feeding and leave them feeling more satiated, Knauer said.

Options that slow down milk feeding are also beneficial. Knauer said that feeding with a bottle or a nipple bucket allows calves to enjoy their meal longer and fills their natural desire to suckle.

Another opportunity is to provide a barrier, either permanent or temporary, that prevents calves from cross sucking and stealing each other’s milk during feeding. She shared examples of barriers used on farms that keep calves separated just during feeding but allowed them to socialize the rest of the day.

These strategies all involve feeding time, because that is when the risk of cross sucking is greatest. Knauer shared data showing that most cross sucking behavior takes place in the first 10 to 14 minutes after milk feeding. “If we can figure out a way to occupy calves during that time, we can probably reduce the risk of cross sucking,” Knauer said.

“Cross sucking is a challenge in group preweaned calves,” she noted, “but we have some tools in the toolbox to prevent this behavior.”

To learn more, watch the Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, “Housing calves in small groups: The pros, cons, and best practices.” The sponsor for this webinar was Agri-Plastics.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2022
July 14, 2022
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