Invited review: A systematic review of the effects of early separation on dairy cow and calf health.


Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, 2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4 Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


Concern from the public is growing regarding early cow-calf separation, yet proponents of this practice maintain that artificial rearing is critical for cow and calf health. Early separation is assumed to reduce the risk of transfer of pathogens from dam to neonatal calf, but a wide range of health benefits associated with extended cow-calf contact has also been documented. The aim of this systematic review was to report and synthesize conclusions from the literature on dairy cow and calf health in conventional rearing versus cow-calf contact systems. Peer-reviewed, published manuscripts, written in English, directly comparing dairy cow or calf health in artificial versus suckling systems, were eligible for inclusion. We conducted 7 targeted searches using Web of Science to identify key literature on important health conditions. The resulting manuscripts underwent a 4-step appraisal process, and further manuscripts were sourced from reference lists. This process resulted in a final sample of 70 articles that addressed cow and calf health. Sufficient literature was available to assess mastitis in cows, and scours, cryptosporidiosis, Johne's disease, pneumonia, immunity, and mortality in calves. The results for cryptosporidiosis, pneumonia, immunity, and mortality were mixed, with some differences between studies likely attributable to flawed comparisons between cohorts. Overall, the articles addressing calf scours and mastitis pointed to beneficial or no effects of suckling. The studies addressing Johne's disease did not find cow-calf contact to be a significant risk factor. In conclusion, the scientific peer-reviewed literature on cow and calf health provides no consistent evidence in support of early separation.


cow-calf rearing,maternal contact,nursing,udder health,weaning,