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Contact with cows during the young age increases social competence and lowers the cardiac stress reaction in dairy calves

By Cornelia Buchli, Alice Raselli, Rupert Bruckmaier, Edna Hillmann

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Abstract

Separating calf and cow within 24h after birth is common practice in dairy farms. Some dairy farmers, however, practice a rearing system in which the calves are nursed by their dam or by foster cows. We investigated if dairy calves reared in such a system (calves with cow-contact) differ in their social behaviour and stress reactivity from calves reared without cow-contact (common rearing). Sixty-nine female calves (34 with cow-contact, 35 without cow-contact) between 27 and 93days of age were subjected to a combined isolation-novel object-confrontation test. With the isolation–novel object test, we aimed to assess their stress reactivity and fearfulness towards a novel object. Following the isolation–novel object, we confronted the calves with an unfamiliar cow to assess if and how previous cow-contact has influenced their social behaviour. During the tests, behaviour was observed directly and the heart rate was recorded continuously; saliva samples for cortisol analysis were taken before and after the trial. The heart rate was higher in calves reared without cow-contact at the beginning of the trial, but was similar to the heart rate of calves reared with cow-contact at the end of the trial (F2,99=5.39, P=0.006). We did not find an effect of cow-contact on saliva cortisol concentration or behaviour during the isolation–novel object test phase. In the confrontation phase, calves reared without cow-contact approached the unfamiliar cow more often than calves reared with cow-contact (F1,27=12.22, P=0.002). Calves that were reared without cow-contact less often displayed a response to threatening behaviour of the cow compared with calves reared with cow-contact (F1,26=14.77, P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 187
Pages 1-7
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.12.002
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Tags
  1. Calves
  2. Dairy animals
  3. Isolation
  4. rearing
  5. Stress response