Effects of weaning lambs in two stages or by abrupt separation on their behavior and growth rate
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A study was conducted to evaluate effects of age at weaning in combination with different weaning procedures on 2 breeds of lambs (Merinoland, Rhoenschaf). Lambs were either weaned at 8 or 16 wk of age in 2 stages or with the traditional method of weaning by abrupt separation. In the 2-stage treatment, lambs were prevented from nursing their dam for 1 wk (stage 1) before their separation (stage 2). Control animals were nursed by their dams until they were separated. Lamb BW and behavior (vocalization, agitation) were recorded before and after separation. After separation, lambs weaned at 8 wk of age had greater (P = 0.004) ADG compared with lambs weaned at 16 wk of age. Control lambs had greater (P < 0.001) agitation scores [1 = no agitation (normal behavior; i.e., feeding, resting, lying, standing, or play behavior) to 3 = high agitation (continuously moving, restlessness, or vocalization)] irrespective of weaning age and breed. On the day of separation, 2-stage lambs had scores from 1.17 to 1.35, whereas control lambs were scored from 1.70 to 1.79. After separation, lambs weaned in 2 stages vocalized up to 98.2% less (P = 0.001) than control animals. Furthermore, bleats were greater for Rhoenschaf lambs and at a weaning age of 8 wk (P < 0.05). Differences between treatments were greatest on the day of separation. Vocalization decreased continuously within the first 3 d of weaning to zero. Lambs weaned in 2 stages were less distressed than lambs weaned by the traditional method of abrupt separation based on behavioral data, but ADG until 12 and 16 wk of age did not differ (P > 0.05) for either treatment in this study.