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Effect of age at weaning on the physiological stress response and temperament of two beef cattle breeds

  • M. Blanco (a1), I. Casasús (a1) and J. Palacio (a2)

The study was conducted to evaluate the effect of age at weaning and breed on the stress response of calves to weaning and their temperament. At calving, 14 Parda de Montaña calves and 14 Pirenaica calves were randomly assigned to either early weaning (at 90 days) or traditional weaning (at 150 days) treatment. During nursing, calves were allowed to suckle their dams twice a day for 30 min. After weaning, calves were placed in an adjacent barn without access to their dams, where they remained for 7 days. On day 8 after weaning, they were transported to a feedlot where they received an intensive diet. Blood samples were taken 168 h before weaning (baseline) and 6, 24, 48 and 168 h after weaning for cortisol, fibrinogen and haematology analyses, and temperament was measured 90 and 180 days after weaning with the flight speed test. Cortisol concentration increased after weaning, irrespective of age at weaning. Early-weaned calves had a lower fibrinogen baseline and a greater increase in fibrinogen concentrations 48 h after weaning than traditionally weaned calves. Moreover, fibrinogen concentration returned to baseline values 168 h after weaning in traditionally weaned calves, whereas it remained high in early-weaned calves. Concerning breed effects, Pirenaica calves had higher cortisol concentration and fibrinogen increments after weaning than Parda de Montaña calves. Slight alterations occurred after weaning in haematology, but all parameters returned to baseline values 168 h after weaning, with no significant effects of age at weaning or breed. Despite the absence of clinical signs, early-weaned calves of both breeds suffered marginal anaemia, according to haemoglobin values. Regardless of age at weaning, Pirenaica calves had greater reactivity to human presence than Parda de Montaña calves, according to their higher flight speed values measured. Finally, early-weaned calves were lighter than traditionally weaned calves at weaning, but had similar weight gains in the feedlot. Consequently, they needed an additional 40 days to reach the target weight, irrespective of breed. Therefore, age at weaning had no major effects on the stress response to weaning or temperament, but early weaning increased the length of the feedlot period. On the other hand, Pirenaica calves were more reactive than Parda de Montaña calves to the stress of weaning and human presence.

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