Kissing calves. Why are they so in love?

Kissing calves. Why are they so in love? What can we do to prevent this? Give us your opinion please, thanks.

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Comments (19)


Give them more milk. At that age, they can drink until they have enough. Or give each of them a bottle (calf bottle). They will grow faster and happier.

Peter Waller

You are onto it Annki. These calves are sucking each other's tongues as a teat sucking response. Notice the one calf butting the other as if it were asking the cow to let down the milk?

Steve Washburn

Calves naturally want to suck. When they drink from buckets or from a trough, then sucking on each other (noses, tongues, ears) is very common. We followed a few groups of calves fed via a nipple barrel or from a trough and ear sucking was quite common shortly after feeding for those fed from a trough. However, we were feeding a little more than a gallon (about 4 liters) of whole milk once daily and the sucking was only for a few minutes after milk was consumed. Calves usually rested soon after and later nibbled calf starter or pasture. The sucking did not persist after weaning and either feeding system was successful for growing calves. Feeding more milk at one time may reduce the length of the sucking behavior as suggested by Annik.

Viv Dillon

This is just normal behaviour, misdirected when calves are reared away from their dams. It does have its problems. We need to find ways of managing group housing better, (not just preventing the behaviour with isolation).Good feed management helps, yes. Contact is essential. Has anyone looked at robotic "cows?"

Jeanette Fisher

Easy - take away the pails and give them teats to suck on.

Jeff Rushen

This is typical cross-sucking usually seen where calves are fed small amounts of milk from a bucket. There is no information about how the calves were fed, but I would suggest giving a decent amount of milk or replacer (10 - 12 L / day) and feed them trhough a teat. If they are alraedy weaned, you may need to separate the pairs that suck each other.


Agreed. Strong, natural instinct. Replace the buckets with a nipple feeding system. Restrict the flow so sucking time is increased or leave nipple in place to allow sucking time.

Marianne Willemse

They miss their mothers, its as simple as that. Some of my calves suckled their mums for 4 years! Bovines are very family conscious.

Karen Phillips

It is a natural sucking reflex which you can manage by giving them milk in a container with a teat and allow them to suck even after the milk is finished. Providing pellets as an additional feed will also help redirect this feeding behaviour. Bucket feeding doesn't allow this behaviour while feeding so they will suck each other afterwards.

joep driessen

Hi, thanks for all your expert opinions! Great to read them!
These calves had concentrate to eat, but just a small bin.
Would it make a difference if they could all eat at the same time?
Probably... Also water is available, and some hay...

The main problem can be only 4 liters milk per day...(2 x 2) and no teat to suck on...
Just a teat on the wall might help...

lots to learn in Youngstock Signals...

Lesley Moffat

Already 30 dairy farmer in the Netherlands are keeping the calves in the herd. With good management and design, this can be done. Then this redirected behaviour is not seen as the calves can suckle on their mothers to get enough milk to satiate themselves and to perform their inherent suckling behaviour on the right "utensil". If this is not possible on the farm, then I think the second-best option is to imitate the best scenario- place teats on the wall and in the buckets, encourage social facilitation of allowing all calves to drink at the same time, and providing more milk?

Frans Rops

We feed our calves with milkbar 6 liters a day and they hardly suck

Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy, Animalytics

I agree with Lesley. I think the first option is best and daresay there's research to prove it. Joep, please do jump in. I hope the number of dairy farms managing their cattle n this way in the Netherlands and elsewhere will increase.

Claudiu Gabriel Teodorescu

I think they need environmental enrichment.


Where can I find info about keeping the calves in the herd? I need blueprints for a vms barn!

DVM PhD Christine M. Røntved

All the milk they can drink - and a dummy teat :)
I nursed my own child for 2 years.
Never a visit to the doctor, except when she had to be vaccinated.
I wonder what we can save in veterinary costs vs the price of milk at the dairy. With the free milk quota in EU - someone should do the calculations....:)

Martin Leonard

I have a situation with a farmer and I would like to submit to the group. Here are the data: Holstein dairy farmer with 95 milking cows. Calves are fed 8 liters of milk (or sometimes milk replacer) per day and are weaned at 2 months. Before weaning they also have calf starter and water at all time. they easily consume almost 3 kg grain when weaned. After weaning groups of 3-4 are in large pens (plenty of space) with deep straw bedding over mattress. Temperature, humidity, ventilation and light are all good. The problem is calves suckling each other teats on almost 20% of the animals and the suckling persist to later age (even 6-7 months) so that a significant proportion of heifer raised end up with 3 fonctional teat when milking. Farmer has tried everything including stopping feeding milk from nipple pail or keep going and provide a nipple on the wall after weaning. Problem is that since they continue at 6-7 months you can give water through nipple at that age. She is currently putting metal rings on the nose to prevent suckling but it retards growth. Looked at genetic line but did not find any correlations. What can we do to stop this behavior? Thanks :)

Praful Patel

It is not kissing or love but it is a sucking instinct.

Joep Driessen

Praful Patel wrote:
It is not kissing or love but it is a sucking instinct.

True! See also this blog:

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