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Does temperament affect learning in calves?

By L. E. Webb, C. G. van Reenen, M. B. Jensen, O. Schmitt, E. A. M. Bokkers

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The aim of the study was to investigate how temperament affects learning ability in calves. Nine two-month-old Holstein-Friesian bull calves were subjected to four challenge tests: novel object (NOT), novel environment (NET), social isolation (SIT), and social isolation with a novel environmental cue (SI/E). During these tests, hypothesised temperament variables were recorded. Hypothesised learning variables were recorded during training on an operant task. Principal component analysis (PCA) was conducted on temperament variables and learning variables separately. Principal components (PCs) hypothesised to reflect underlying temperament and learning traits were extracted from these two PCAs using the Kaiser rule. Spearman's rank correlations were carried out to determine relationships between temperament and learning PC scores. Four temperament PCs were extracted from the PCA on temperament variables, and these were proposed to reflect fearfulness, activity, exploration, and attention towards the environment. These hypothesised underlying temperamental traits were consistent with findings of previous studies using larger numbers of calves. Two learning PCs were extracted from the PCA on learning variables, and these were proposed to reflect feed motivation and working speed. A single correlation was found between temperament and learning PC scores: high activity was associated with low feed motivation. This preliminary exploratory study suggests that temperament, as assessed during challenge tests, may affect learning an operant conditioning task in calves. Understanding how temperament affects learning in calves can help with the training of calves on novel automated feeding apparatuses or on novel feed components, and can thus help improve calf health and welfare.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 165
Pages 33-39
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.01.013
Language English
Author Address Animal Production Systems group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 338, AH 6700 Wageningen,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal nutrition
  3. Animals
  4. Automation
  5. Bovidae
  6. Calves
  7. Cattle
  8. Conditioning
  9. Dog Breeds
  10. Fear
  11. Feeding
  12. Health
  13. Learning ability
  14. Mammals
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Research
  17. Ruminants
  18. temperament
  19. tests
  20. training
  21. traits
  22. ungulates
  23. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed