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The effect of irregular feeding times on the behaviour and growth of dairy calves

By T. Johannesson, J. Ladewig

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The objective of this study was to examine the effects of predictable vs. unpredictable management routines on the behaviour, production and health of dairy calves. Three different feeding schedules for milk-fed dairy calves (Holstein-Friesian) were compared. All calves received milk twice a day, and had free access to concentrate, hay and water. Three groups of 12 calves (divided on 2 trials) were exposed to one of the following treatments from the age of 5 days to 9 weeks: group C (control) received milk at the same time every day, at 07.00 and 14.00h. Group OD (occasional deviation) received the milk at the same time every day except on treatment days, one in week 5 and one in week 8, where they were fed 3 h later. Group IR (irregular schedule) received milk at irregular times throughout the experimental period. The first daily feeding took place between 06.00 and 13.00h and the second one between 13.00 and 21.00h. When the calves were 5 and 8 weeks old, the behaviour of 8 calves from each group was videorecorded for 2 days (48 h). The following behaviour was recorded: frequency and duration of lying bouts and frequency of comfort behaviour (defined as licking or scratching own body), eating, drinking, other oral behaviour and extending the head through the feeding barrier (HTB). The milk and concentrate consumption of the calves was measured and the calves were weighed weekly. Diseases were recorded. The results showed that at the age of 5 weeks, the calves in group IR differed from the control group C by performing more eating behaviour both on the control day (27.5 vs. 15.5; p<0.05) and the treatment day (28.8 vs. 18.3; p<0.05). At the age of 8 weeks, no differences were found in the behaviour between groups IR and C. When the OD calves were 5 weeks old, they responded to the delayed feeding by increasing drinking behaviour (14.5 vs. 9.0; p<0.05). When they were 8 weeks old, they showed increased frequency of comfort (195 vs. 122; p<0.05), eating (37.5 vs. 27.9; p<0.05) and HTB behaviour (19.8 vs. 7.4; p<0.001) on the treatment day compared to the control day. The IR group did not respond to the same treatment except for a slight increase in drinking behaviour (9.6 vs. 6.5; p<0.05) at the age of 8 weeks. No differences were observed in the frequency or length of lying bouts, nor health or production parameters between the 3 groups. It is concluded that a predictable feeding schedule may not be very important for milk-fed dairy calves. However, when the calves are customized to predictable feeding times, occasional deviations from that schedule may cause frustration when their expectations are not fulfilled.

Date 2000
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 69
Issue 2
Pages 103-111
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(00)00127-1
Language English
Author Address Division of Ethology and Health, Department of Animal Science and Animal Health, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Groennegaardsvej 8, 1870 Frederiksberg C, Denmark.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Animal rights
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  7. Calves
  8. Cattle
  9. Drinking
  10. Eating habits
  11. Mammals
  12. Milk and dairy products
  13. peer-reviewed
  14. physical activity
  15. Ruminants
  16. time
  1. peer-reviewed