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Adoption, Use, and Management of Automated Milk Feeders for Group-housed Dairy Calves

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Title: Adoption, Use, and Management of Automated Milk Feeders for Group-housed Dairy Calves
Author: Medrano-Galarza, Catalina
Department: Department of Population Medicine
Program: Population Medicine
Advisor: Haley, Derek B.LeBlanc, Stephen J.
Abstract: This thesis investigated the adoption of automated milk feeders (AMF) and the prevalence and effects of management practices used to raise calves in groups with AMF on Canadian dairy farms. I used three study designs: a survey, a longitudinal observational study, and a controlled trial. The survey of 670 dairy farmers across Canada helped determined the prevalence of various calf management and feeding practices and compared these between farms using manual milk feeding (MMF) and AMF systems. The factors influencing producers to switch to AMF were also investigated. Sixteen-percent of respondents used an AMF. These farms were larger, used more automation, provided more milk to calves, and grouped calves at an earlier age compared with MMF farms. The key motivators for adoption of AMF were to raise better calves, provide higher milk allowances, reduce labour, and improve working conditions, while the key barriers were costs regarding investment in the equipment and group-housing facilities. In the observational study, 17 farms in southern Ontario feeding milk with AMF to group-housed calves were visited 4 times over one year, to identify management factors associated with the prevalence of calf diarrhea (CD) and bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Overall calf-prevalence of CD and BRD were 23% and 17%. The use of calving pens for additional purposes, calf pens located in barns where older cattle were present, and inadequate quality of bedding (adding fresh bedding every ≥ 7 days, and allowing manure-saturated bedding to accumulate) were associated with increased within-pen disease prevalence. The controlled trial investigated the effect of the age of introduction of calves to a group pen with an AMF (< 1 (early) vs. 5 days of age (conventional)) on learning to use the AMF, growth, and the requirements for labour. Early introduction resulted in decreased total labour for milk feeding, despite the fact that early-introduced calves took longer to learn to use the AMF than conventional introduction. Average daily gain was not affected by age of introduction, but the risk of having a severe case of diarrhea was higher for early-introduced calves.
Date: 2018-05
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