In rearing and finisher units the young animals often get bored on the one side. On the other side they become stronger and more competitive against other animals. This can lead to all kinds of problems. Most of all to ranking fights with danger of serious injuries and suckling at other animal’s navel, ears and other body parts with danger of infections for the suckled animal. This good practice was implemented on a rearing farm with Simmental heifers in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The main challenge on this farm was the mutual suckling which mostly led to severe navel infections. The animals are housed on straw bedding.

To distract the heifers from suckling each other and to keep them occupied with something different types of enrichment have been installed in the bunks. These toys are commonly used in pig fattening units. Many different types of toys are available. On this farm a hay ball (a kind of hollow rubber ball dangling from the ceiling filled with hay) and a so-called play-hedgehog  (also dangling from the ceiling, a rubber toy with many tentacle-like appendages) were used. The heifers showed great interest and a regular usage of these toys. The suckling of other animals navels got reduced to a minimum. The results were best if the two toys were changed every two weeks so the interest of the animals was held high. This good practice is very easy to implement. It’s important to clean and disinfect the toys after the using period so illnesses can’t spread due to the toys. And the toys need to be renewed regularly as the constant suckling and chewing of the heifers harm them over the time.

This good practice addresses the priority topic of animal health and welfare, as a way to improve animal welfare of beef cattle in rearing and finisher units. Due to the distraction by the toys the prevalence of mutual suckling and cross suckling was reduced significantly. Thus, the rate of navel infections and the usage of medication, treatment by veterinarians, surgeries and even losses of animal due to infections has decreased dramatically. This also has a high impact of the socio-economic resilience, the improvement of beef image and production efficiency. The additional costs for toys are more than compensated by the saved costs for medical treatment. -> Igel für Kälber?