Weaning strategies to improve productivity and animal welfare in zebu (Bos indicus) and water buffaloes (Bubalus bubalis)
Information on approaches to weaning zebu (Bos indicus) and water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) calves is scarce in proportion to studies of breeds of B. taurus cattle, whether dairy or beef. Little research has been done to test or validate methods evolved in cattle-ranching to these other species. Hence, expanding our understanding of appropriate, species-specific methods of weaning could support the development of approaches or strategies that have the potential to improve animal welfare and productive performance in temperate or tropical climes. This review focuses on traditional and current weaning strategies in an attempt to improve productivity and animal welfare for water buffaloes and zebus. For the case of the water buffalo, it examines common, routine weaning techniques and procedures as well as novel approaches, while for the zebu it discusses abrupt versus gradual and early versus late weaning as strategies and routines usually employed during this process. Finally, it analyses how new weaning techniques may reduce stress while enhancing productivity at the same time. These approaches include fence-line weaning, nose-flaps (plastic devices that prevent the calf from grabbing a teat to suckle), restricted suckling and a section on practical tips to decrease the stress induced by weaning in zebus. A better understanding of certain weaning techniques could, therefore, benefit calf welfare while simultaneously increasing cows’ reproductive performance. Unfortunately, data on such approaches is scant, so despite published findings, several key issues remain unsolved living room for additional studies.
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