Housing System May Affect Calf Behavior and Performance of Jersey Heifer Calves

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The Ohio State University

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The way dairy calves are housed may significantly affect their behavior, production performance, and welfare. The dairy industry in-large remains in favor of individually housing their pre-weaned calves in order to avoid undesirable behaviors, such as cross-sucking, and to reduce the transmission of disease-causing organisms. The majority of research on alternative housing systems published to date has been conducted with Holstein calves. The present study examined the effect of paired versus individual housing of Jersey heifers on their behavior and performance. Forty female Jersey calves were allocated to either individual or paired housing treatments at birth and monitored for approximately 9 wk. Calves on both treatments were provided with a single hutch, and calves allocated to the paired housing treatment were provided with a pen enclosure twice the size of individually housed calves. All calves were fed milk replacer via bucket twice daily (1.9 L/feeding first 7 d, then 2.27 L/feeding until weaned) and had ad libitum access to calf-starter and water. Calves were decreased to one milk feeding per day on d 49 and weaning occurred on d 56. Grain consumption was monitored daily and calves were weighed weekly to calculate average daily gain (ADG). Live behavior observations were conducted twice per week around milk feeding. Data were analyzed using the MIXED model procedure of SAS. There was no significant difference observed with respect to ADG for calves housed in pairs compared to those housed individually (0.62 ± 0.02 versus 0.59 ± 0.02 kg/d; P = 0.30). Grain dry matter intake (DMI) was similar across treatments (P > 0.10), yet calves housed in pairs tended to weigh significantly more than calves housed individually (42.8 ± 0.8 versus 40.8 ±0.8 kg; P = 0.08). In addition, pair housed calves were observed cross-sucking 13.6% of the time during observation periods. In conclusion, housing Jersey heifer calves in pairs allows for social interactions and may increase body weight.



dairy calf welfare, housing method, performance, behavior