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What do calves choose to eat and how do preferences affect behaviour?

By L. E. Webb, B. Engel, H. Berends, C. G. van Reenen, W. J. J. Gerrits, I. J. M. de Boer, E. A. M. Bokkers

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Calves raised for milk or meat are fed diets that differ from feral-herd calf diets and are based on the nutritional requirements of the 'average calf'. These diets may not meet the dietary preferences of each individual calf. This study explored diet preferences in calves with free dietary choice, and the effect of these preferences on behaviour. Group-housed Holstein-Friesian bull calves ( N=23) were given unlimited access to five diet components (i.e. milk replacer [MR], concentrate, maize silage, long hay and long barley straw). At 3 and 6 months of age, calves were moved for 7 days to an automated test pen in groups of four, where intake, time spent eating, and visit frequency to each diet component was recorded to assess preferences. Behaviour was recorded on 2 of the 7 days in the test pen, from 07:30 to 18:00 h using instantaneous scan sampling for periods of 30 min every 2.5 h at a 2 min interval. Solid feed intake at 6 months averaged 3205.5174.6 g DM d -1. At 3 months, calves selected the following proportion (average of individual proportions) of MR, concentrate and roughage in relation to total g DM intake: 51.65.0%, 25.04.7% and 23.42.8%. At 6 months, the calves conserved the roughage proportion (23.31.6%), but increased concentrate intake (47.12.1%) at the expense of MR (29.61.9%). Order of preference for the five diet components varied according to whether intake, time spent eating each component, or visit frequency was considered. On the whole, MR was preferred followed by concentrate and hay at both ages. Offering a dietary choice led to large individual variation in intake and to 47-80% calves having the same ranking as the average ranking for diet components. This suggests die's based on the 'average calf' may meet only few calves' dietary preferences. Different variables showed different preference rankings and studies in the future should consider the relative importance of these variables in assessing animal preferences.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 161
Pages 7-19
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.016
Language English
Author Address Animal Production Systems Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Angiosperms
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Animal nutrition
  5. Animals
  6. Animal welfare
  7. Automation
  8. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  9. Bovidae
  10. Breeding
  11. Breeds
  12. Calves
  13. Cattle
  14. Concentrates
  15. Diets
  16. Effect
  17. Feed intake
  18. Feed preferences
  19. Feeds
  20. Field crops
  21. Flowers
  22. Foraging
  23. Grains
  24. Grasses
  25. Hay
  26. Maize
  27. Mammals
  28. Nutrition
  29. nutritional requirements
  30. peer-reviewed
  31. physiology
  32. Plants
  33. Research
  34. Ruminants
  35. Straw
  36. ungulates
  37. variation
  38. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed