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Stressed, antisocial calves? Calf brushes can helpc

Angelina Bertino for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 September 2017
Calf brushes provide numerous socialization benefits

As animal welfare issues continue to become more prominent, automatic comfort brushes for calves are becoming a necessary tool for farmers to improve calf comfort and well-being.

However, did you know calf brushes aren’t just for comfort?



Calf brushes also provide needed socialization time for young calves, which can lead to stress reduction and an improvement in growth performance. And calves provided with more social interactions are easier to handle, helping make transitions smooth and safe for calves and the farmer.

Keep them growing

Growth rates in the pre-weaning phase can have a significant impact on the timing of puberty, age at first calving and even first-lactation milk production. Additional socialization from calf brushes can help calves attain target growth rates for weight and height.

A study done by the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna showed calves petted for three minutes per day had a 3 percent increase in average daily gain compared to calves not stimulated. While it’s not realistic for most farms to spend time petting their calves daily, a calf brush can provide similar stimulation and engagement to help increase growth.

Creating a more social environment during the pre- and post-weaning phase can also help ensure calves grow to become top producers in your herd. In fact, farmers using calf brushes have noticed the improvement in growth rates has led to higher productivity in their milking herd.

Stop stressing

Research shows calves provided with social environments are better able to handle stress associated with changes in the environment. During the pre- and post-weaning phases, calves experience a constantly changing environment as they are introduced to other calves and experience feed changes.


Added socialization helps reduce stress during these transitions and reduce food neophobia, or the avoidance of unfamiliar or new feed, resulting in higher feed intake. Environmental enrichment and greater socialization with calf brushes can help improve calf well-being by offering behavioral opportunities to reduce stress naturally.

Social grooming

The advantages in grooming are one of the main benefits of calf brushes. They help decrease fly and parasite stress, improve glandular functions and keep calves clean by exfoliating skin and removing excess bedding or manure, which can negatively impact calf health.

An increase in social grooming time allows young calves to bond with their herdmates. This socialization helps reduce the impact of the boss cow/submissive cow hierarchy within the herd. Research from Iowa State University also showed calves denied social grooming were more likely to exhibit abnormal behavior, which can be dangerous to farmers when working with calves.

Handle with care

Farmers who use calf brushes have seen increased social interaction among their calves, which leads to more interaction between the calves and their caretakers. Studies show calves receiving positive social interaction exhibit less avoidance behavior and are more willing to approach people.

Calves with access to a brush are more receptive to caretakers when administering daily care such as feeding, bedding, transportation and veterinary care.

Work with your local calf care specialist to learn more about the impact of calf brushes on calf growth and well-being.  end mark


References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

PHOTO: Calf brushes provide numerous socialization benefits, including stress relief and improved growth rates. Courtesy photo.

Angelina Bertino
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Calf brush selection tips

Keep these tips in mind when selecting a calf brush for your farm:

  • Brushes should be used for calves 2 to 7 months old, after the weaning stage.

  • Choose a brush with safety features such as overload sensitivity, reverse and adjustable brush speed.

  • Look for soft, durable bristles that won’t irritate calves’ sensitive skin.

  • Motion sensors can help increase brush use by slowly rotating the brush to attract the calves’ interest. Make sure to keep the brush speed slow to avoid scaring calves.