How to avoid mutually suckling calves

Young mammals are motivated to suckle.

In nature, low sucking motivation means lower survival chances.


Even if calves are given lots of milk from an open bucket, (or by using a "fast teat"), the sucking reflex persists for a period of time

The sucking reflex has several important (biological) functions.

For example, sucking calves release digestive hormones necessary for nutrient absorption.

It also ensures a better closure of the esophageal groove and additionally increases the calf's "satiated" feeling.


Milk ideally flows directly into the abomasum

If milk enters the rumen (after the first colostrum feeding), the milk will ferment in the rumen.

Gas, bloating, reduced feed efficiency and slower growth are some of the consequences. 


The natural desire of calves to suckle is greatest immediately after the completion of each milk feeding

This desire decreases for +/- 15 minutes after the last milk intake.

Mutual suckling calves focus on the groin area of other calves in 78% of cases, especially on the udder and scrotum tissue.  



Quite simply, actually. 

You achieve the best results by satisfying the natural suckling motivation and suckling needs of calves during, (and after) drinking milk.


Some guidelines:

1. Give milk to the calf through a teat, calves should then suck rather than (unnaturally) drink from a bucket without a teat.                                       

Sucking is a natural behavior and a natural need in calves.

2. Give calves an adequate amount of milk through the teat.

3. Leave the teat bucket or bottle attached to the calf pen for 10 to 15 minutes after the calf has drunk the milk.

This extends the time frame of suckling, and also satisfies the suckling need without calves suckling other calves or things.

4. Use a "slow" teat.

Calves then have to suck intensively to absorb the amount of milk. As a result, they produce much more saliva and their sucking needs are better met.


In group housing, during drinking

5. In group housing, during drinking: Make sure each calf has a teat.

All calves in the group must be able to drink at the same time!

6. Provide tasty, fresh and textured roughage after each milk feeding.

This not only promotes saliva production, but also rumen development and healthy digestion. It also prevents boredom.



- The motivation to suckle is primarily influenced by the intake of milk

- The taste of milk (lactose) stimulates suckling behavior

- Lack of energy or nutrients will also stimulate sucking behavior

- The motivation to suck decreases more by the sucking itself than by the actual intake of milk!

- Sucking on objects has a marked influence on metabolism. Including an increase in the concentration of insulin and cholecystokinin in the blood

- Both substances have a calming effect on all mammals; the effect is similar to a "pacifier" or thumb sucking in children.

Higher concentrations of insulin and cholecystokinin in the body improve digestion and suppress the feeling of hunger.

As a result, the motivation to suck becomes much less. 


Drinking too little milk and/or drinking milk too fast leads directly to stress in calves.

A higher volume of milk, combined with a longer time of drinking

means better growth, better development and less stress on calves.

Source text Ronald Rongen. Photos Ronald Rongen and Marga Fogt