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Dairy calves’ adaptation to group housing with automated feeders

By Mayumi Fujiwara, Jeffrey Rushen, Anne Marie de Passillé

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Group housing of dairy calves with automated milk feeders has likely welfare and labour saving advantages but delays in the calves adapting to the feeding system may reduce these advantages. We examined factors that influence calves’ adaptation to the feeders. In Exp. 1, 77 Holstein calves were reared in individual “baby” pens with free access to milk from a teat attached to a bucket for 5–6d after birth. Milk intakes and weight gains were recorded and accelerometers measured the time spent standing. After 6d, the calves were introduced to group pens with automated feeders. Latency to the first voluntary milk ingestion, milk intakes and weight gains were recorded. In the group pens, approx. 70% of calves ingested milk during the first voluntary visit to the milk feeder, but a large variation was found in the latency to the first voluntary ingestion of milk (10–240h). Milk intakes were significantly lower on the first day in the group pen than in the baby pens (P0.10). The latency to first voluntary milk ingestion in the group pens was negatively correlated with milk intake over 6d in the group pens (r=−0.38, P=0.03). When data from the two experiments were combined, latency to the first milk intake in the group pens was negatively correlated with age at time of introduction to the group pens (r=−0.23, P=0.009) and duration of standing in the baby pens (r=−0.21, P=0.02). There are large differences between calves in how quickly they learn to use automated milk feeders and a delay in learning to use the feeder is associated with lower milk intakes over 1–2 weeks. Pair housing immediately after birth did not help. Younger calves at the time of introduction are more likely to take longer to adapt than older calves but many 6d old calves adapt quickly, especially those that show high vigour in the first week after birth.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 158
Pages 1-7
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.06.011
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Dairy animals
  2. Feeders
  3. Group housing
  4. welfare