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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #325818

Research Project: Safeguarding Well-being of Food Producing Animals

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Title: Short communication: Effect of age at group housing on behavior, cortisol, health, and leukocyte differential counts of neonatal bull dairy calves

Author
item Abdelfattah, E - Benha University
item Lay, Jr, Donald - Don
item Marchant-forde, Jeremy
item Karousa, M - Benha University
item Schutz, M - Purdue University
item Eicher, Susan

Submitted to: Journal of Dairy Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/25/2017
Publication Date: 10/18/2017
Citation: Abdelfattah, E.M., Lay Jr, D.C., Marchant Forde, J.N., Karousa, M.M., Schutz, M.M., Eicher, S.D. 2017. Short communication: Effect of age at group housing on behavior, cortisol, health, and leukocyte differential counts of neonatal bull dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science. 101(1):596-602. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2017-12632.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2017-12632

Interpretive Summary: Grouping of dairy calves is a contentious, consumer-based drive. The best practices for the calves have yet to be determined. The objective of this study was to determine the optimum age for grouping that would have a beneficial effect on behavior, health, and production of dairy bull calves. Calves were housed in group pens of 3 calves at 3, 7, or 14 days of age. Calves were bottle-fed milk until weaned at day 57. Calves had ad libitum access to starter mixture, and water. Calves grouped at day 3 or day 14 ate more solid feed than those grouped at day 7. Therefore, those calves grouped at day 3 or 14 weighed more at the end of the study. Calves grouped at day 3 or 7 manipulated each other more than those grouped at day 14. Play behavior was greatest for calves grouped at day 3. However, calves grouped at day 3 and 7 were observed cross sucking each other more than those grouped at day 14. The duration of displacement from bottles was greatest for calves grouped at day 14. Calves grouped at day 3 stood and drank (water) most, but calves grouped at day 14 vocalized most. Calf fecal scores, cough scores, ocular discharge scores, differential leucocyte counts, and plasma cortisol concentrations were not affected by age of grouping. In conclusion, group housing of calves at 3 d of age is possible and is associated with social benefits for calves, and that grouping at d 7 should be avoided. Benefits for producers include improved calf welfare and performance.

Technical Abstract: To determine the optimum age for grouping that would have a beneficial effect on behavior, health, and production of dairy bull calves, 90 Holstein-Friesian bull calves were housed in individual hutches (220 cm x 122 cm x 140 cm) until moved to one of three treatments. Calves were housed in group pens of 3 calves at 3 ± 3 d (GH3), 7 ± 3 days (GH7), and 14 ± 3 d (GH14) of age. Ten group pens per treatment were formed. The work was conducted in 2 experimental replications. The first replicate extended from March to May, while the second one ran from September to November. All calves were fed milk by bottle until complete weaning at day 57 ± 2 d. Calves had ad libitum access to starter mixture, and water during the entire experimental period (70 ± 3 d). Direct behavioral observations were conducted twice per week. Video data were recorded for continuous observations at feeding time to observe milk bottle eating behavior, displacement, cross-sucking and play behaviors. All calves were weighed at arrival and at the end of the experiment. Growth variables and health scores were recorded weekly. Calves in GH3 and GH14 ate more solid feed than GH7 calves. Therefore, GH3 and GH14 calves’ final weight was more than GH7 (109.1 and 105.1 vs. 102.4 ± 3.5 kg). Calves grouped at d 3 and d 7 manipulated each other more than GH14 calves. Play behavior was greater for GH3 than GH7 and GH14 (1.40 vs. 0.33 and 0.09 ± 0.43 %). However, calves grouped at d 3 and 7 were observed cross sucking each other more than GH14 calves (1.57, 1.42 vs. 0.03 ± 0.97 % of observation time). The duration of displacement from bottles was greater for GH14 calves than GH3 and GH7 (29.0 ± 5.5 vs. 14.5 ± 6.0 and 24.1 ± 5.7). Calves in GH3 calves stood and drank (water) more (P < 0.05) than GH7 and GH14. Calves in GH14 vocalized more (P < 0.05). Calf fecal scores, cough scores, ocular discharge scores, differential leucocyte counts, and plasma cortisol concentrations were not affected by age of grouping. In conclusion, group housing of calves at 3 d of age is possible and is associated with social benefits for calves, and that grouping at d 7 should be avoided. Benefits for producers include improved calf welfare and performance.