Technical note: Estimating body weight of dairy calves with a partial-weight scale attached to an automated milk feeder.


Department of Animal and Food Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington 40546. Electronic address: [Email]


Monitoring early growth in neonatal dairy calves provides insight into the effectiveness of a producer's nutrition program and helps monitor for sickness. The objective of this study was to validate whether a partial-weight scale attached to an automated milk feeder (Combi; DeLaval, Tumba, Sweden) could precisely and accurately estimate calf weights compared with twice-weekly weights of a calibrated electronic scale (gold standard; Brecknell PS1000; Avery Weigh-Tronix LLC, Fairmont, MN). Holstein heifers (n = 20) were enrolled in this study from birth until 84 d of age. All heifers were eligible to receive 10 L of milk replacer/d for 56 d and were subsequently weaned using a step-down strategy across 14 d. The automated milk feeder had a radio frequency identification panel placed directly above the scale such that calves had to stand with both front hooves on the scale platform to access milk from the nipple. An algorithm was created to summarize and clean the scale measurements of any non-biologically relevant data points. The relationship between the daily weight average from the partial scale and the electronic scale was analyzed using Pearson correlations, linear regressions, and Bland-Altman plots. Data from the partial weight scale were considered precise if the correlation coefficient and coefficient of determination were very high (>0.90) and the mean bias from the Bland-Altman plots included zero with the 95% interval of agreement. The partial-weight scale was considered accurate if the slope from the linear regression did not differ significantly from 1. We found a very high Pearson correlation coefficient (0.99) and coefficient of determination (0.99). Bland-Altman plots were deemed acceptable and nonbiased; the Bland-Altman difference (feeder weight - scale weight) was 0.45 ± 2.33 kg (mean ± standard deviation). The slope of the linear regression was not different from 1 (slope = 1.01; 95% confidence interval = 1.00-1.03), suggesting that the partial-weight scale was accurate. In summary, the partial-weight scale was validated, with a high precision and accurate estimate of weight in calves compared with the gold standard electronic scale. The partial-weight scale may be a useful tool for producers to estimate calf weight if a data cleaning algorithm is used.


average daily gain,calf growth,precision dairy technology,preweaning,

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