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Reduced locomotor play behaviour of dairy calves following separation from the mother reflects their response to reduced energy intake

By J. Rushen, R. Wright, J. F. Johnsen, C. M. Mejdell, A. M. de Passille

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Play behaviour is an indicator of good welfare in young calves and is reduced by low energy intake and weaning off milk. There is renewed interest in keeping calves longer with the cow but separation leads to signs of distress, such as vocalizations. Providing calves with an alternative milk source prior to separation helps them adapt to the separation. We hypothesized that (1) locomotor play of nursed calves separated from their mothers will reflect their energy intake after separation, and (2) calves' prior access to automated milk feeders will increase locomotor play and reduce vocalizations after separation due to an increased energy intake. 30 Holstein cows and their calves were kept in adjacent pens. "Suckling-only" calves were allowed to suckle the cow during the night and received no other milk, "Milk-feeder only" calves could obtain 12 L/day milk only from an automated milk feeder while "Suckling-and-milk-feeder" calves could suckle during the night and were allowed 12 L/day of milk from an automated milk feeder. At 6 weeks of age, calves were not allowed to enter the cow pen during the night but had access to automated milk and grain feeders. To measure locomotor play, we placed the calves individually in a 9.5 m * 2 m arena for 10 min, 10 times before and after separation. The frequency of jumping and vocalization were scored. Digestible energy (DE) intakes of the calves after separation were calculated from combined milk and grain intake. Before separation, there were no differences between the treatment groups on any behavioural measure ( P>0.10). For Suckling-only calves, there was a marked decrease in the frequency of jumping (Wilcoxon test, P=0.02) and a marked increase in the frequency of vocalization during the first 3 days after separation ( P=0.004). During the first 3 days of separation, Suckling-only calves had a lower frequency of jumping (Mann-Whitney test, P=0.009) and vocalized more frequently (Mann-Whitney test, P=0.009) than did calves of the other treatment groups. For all calves, the number of vocalization was negatively correlated with frequency of jumping ( rs=-0.51; P=0.005). After separation, Suckling-only calves had lower energy intakes than calves of the other treatment groups (Mann-Whitney test, P=0.01) and the digestible energy intake of the calves was positively correlated with the frequency of jumping ( rs=0.75; P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 177
Pages 6-11
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2016.01.023
Language English
Author Address University of British Columbia, Dairy Education and Research Centre, P.O. Box 202, 6947 Highway 7, Agassiz, BC V0M 1A0,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal nutrition
  3. Animals
  4. Automation
  5. Bovidae
  6. Breeds
  7. Calves
  8. Cattle
  9. Digestibility
  10. Emotions
  11. Energy
  12. Feeders
  13. Intake
  14. Mammals
  15. mothers
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. pens
  18. Ruminants
  19. ungulates
  20. vertebrates
  21. vocalizations
  22. weaning
  1. peer-reviewed