The study objective was to investigate the physiological effects of weaning on beef calves and identify a panel of blood-based welfare biomarkers. On the day (d) of weaning (d 0), 16 spring-born, single-suckled, beef bull calves that previously grazed with their dams at pasture, were assigned to one of two treatments: (1) control (n = 8), calves were loose-housed with their dam, (2) weaned (n = 8), calves were abruptly separated from their dam and loose-housed. Jugular blood was collected on d -4, 0, 1, 2, 3, 7, and 14 relative to weaning (d 0) and assayed for inflammatory and steroid variables. Total leukocyte counts were measured in whole blood. It is concluded that neutrophil number is a robust biomarker of stress and that plasma CXCL8 is a sensitive indicator of stress in weaned and control calves. In future studies, these two biomarkers should be central to the characterisation of stress responses.
Keywords: Biomarkers; CXCL8; Cattle; Cortisol; Haematology; Stress; Weaning.
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