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Sucking motivation and related problems in calves. (Special issue: Suckling)

By A. M. de Passille

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Because the survival of young mammals depends on sucking success, it is assumed that sucking motivation must be strong and that sucking deprivation would result in frustration, which could have a negative impact on the animals' welfare. This concern, as well as that regarding cross-sucking between calves and intersucking between older animals, has stimulated research on the motivation of calves for non-nutritive sucking. Non-nutritive sucking is elicited by the ingestion of milk; and the lactose concentration in milk, rather than fat or protein, is the main factor that stimulates it. Every time a calf drinks milk, it is stimulated to suck, and deprivation of sucking may interfere with digestive processes or satiety. To understand calf behaviour during nutritive sucking, the effects of milk flow on calves' sucking and butting were examined in an artificial feeding system. Slowing down and stopping the flow rate stimulated butting and potentially lengthened the duration of sucking for the meal. It also stimulated the calf to switch teats when a second teat was available. These findings are well correlated to observations of the calf suckling a cow in experimental manipulations. The duration of the meal was not correlated with milk intake, but it was influenced by milk availability and how hungry the calf was. Furthermore, calves were observed to butt more often when there was less milk available in the dam's udder, presumably because milk flow is slower. Consequently, it is the occurrence of butting rather than sucking duration that would be a good indicator of milk intake when the calf is suckling the dam. Based on these observations, a combination of slower milk flow and hay feeding and the provision of a non-nutritive artificial teat to reduce the occurrence of cross-sucking following a milk meal are recommended.

Date 2001
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 72
Issue 3
Pages 175-187
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00108-3
Language English
Author Address Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, P.O. Box 90-2000, Route 108 East, Lennoxville, Que. J1M 1Z3, Canada.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Appetite
  5. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  6. Calves
  7. Cattle
  8. Eating disorders
  9. Feeding behavior
  10. Lactose
  11. Mammals
  12. Milk and dairy products
  13. motivation
  14. nipple drinkers
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Reviews
  17. Ruminants
  18. suckling
  19. sugar
  1. peer-reviewed