Early pair housing influences the feeding behavior and development of dairy calves
Calves are social and gregarious animals. Pre-weaned calves are typically kept in individual pens but little is known about how individual versus social rearing affects development of feeding behavior. The aim of this study was to assess the effects early and late pairing feeding behavior and weight gain before and after weaning. Holstein bull calves were reared individually (n=8 calves), or paired with another calf at 3d of age (n=8 pairs) or 42d of age (n=8 pairs). All calves were fed 8 L of milk/d for 4 wk, 6 L/d from 4 to 6 wk and weaned at 8 wk of age. Calves were provided ad libitum access to calf starter and a total mixed ration (TMR). Body weight and feed consumption were followed weekly from 6 wk until 10 wk of age. At 6 wk, intake of TMR averaged (± SEM) 0.25 ± 0.05 Kg/d, 0.41 ± 0.12 Kg/d, 0.32 ± 0.09 Kg/d, for individual, and early paired late paired housed calves, respectively. Starter intake was similar for the individually reared and late-paired calves (0.09 ± 0.03 Kg/d and 0.04 ± 0.01 Kg/d) but higher for the early-paired calves (0.23 ± 0.07 Kg/d). Consumption increased after weaning in all treatments, but this increase was greatest for the early-paired calves. At 10 wk of age, TMR intake averaged 2.89 ± 0.54 Kg/d, 3.27 ± 0.72 Kg/d and 3.08 ± 0.46 Kg/d for individual, early paired and late paired housed calves, respectively. Starter intake averaged 1.26 ± 0.33 Kg/d, 2.20 ± 0.22 Kg/d and 1.09 ± 0.25 Kg/d for the same three treatments. Calves in the early pair treatment showed higher average daily gains (1.13 ± 0.05 Kg/d versus 0.92±0.04 Kg/d and 0.84 ± 0.05 Kg/d for the individual and late-paired calves). Pair housing soon after birth increased calf feed intake and weight gains in comparison with late pairing and individual housing.
Keywords: feeding behavior, group housing, dietary transition