Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: April 14, 2013
Publication Date: July 8, 2013
Citation: Abdelfattah, E.M., Schutz, M.M., Lay Jr, D.C., Marchant Forde, J.N., Eicher, S.D. 2013. Group size of veal calves does not affect production, physiological, or hematological indicators of welfare and has transient effects on health. Journal of Animal Science. Proceedings CD. Technical Abstract: Holstein-Friesian bull calves (n = 168; 44 ± 3 d of age), were used to investigate the effect of group size on performance, health, hematology, and welfare of veal calves. Groups of calves were assigned to 1 of 3 group housing treatments with 2, 4, or 8 calves per pen (initial BW 65.3 ± 3.7, 66.5 ± 3.7, and 67.6 ± 3.7 kg, respectively). The pens within 2 barns were 3 × 1.20 m (2 calves/pen), 3× 2.40 m (4 calves/pen), and 3 × 4.80 m (8 calves/pen), and provided the same space (1.8 m2 per calf) during the 5-month finishing period. All calves were fed milk replacer and solid feed twice daily at 12 h intervals. Body weights were measured at the beginning (Initial BW) and at the end of the experiment (Final BW). Hip height and heart girth were recorded monthly for 5 months. Health was evaluated monthly using the University of Wisconsin calf health scoring chart. Data were analyzed as a RCB with repeated measures using PROC MIXED (SAS). No differences (P = 0.5) among treatments were found regarding BW or ADG for the entire 5-mo period. Group size resulted in similar hip height change (P = 0.41) and heart girth change (P = 0.18) over 5 mo. The incidence of diarrhea was similar among treatments (P = 0.15). An interaction of treatment and month was detected for both cough (P = 0.03) and nasal discharge (P = 0.02) scores. During mo 1, calves in groups of 8 or 4 coughed more compared to calves in groups of 2; while in mo 2 calves in groups of 8 coughed more than calves in groups of 4 or 2. In mo 4, calves in groups of 8 had less nasal discharge than calves in groups of 2 or 4. Plasma cortisol (P = 0.37) and blood hemoglobin (P = 0.13) concentration were not affected by group size. In conclusion, the number of veal calves in a group, given the same space, has no detrimental effect on performance, and has transient effects on health of veal calves. Housing veal calves in group size of 2, 4, or 8 can be equally effective in terms of production and has no clear negative effect on welfare.