The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of social contact and milk allowance on social behavior, play behavior, and responses to handling in dairy calves. Forty test calves and 16 companion calves were allocated to 1 of 5 treatments from birth to 4 wk of age: (1) housed singly and fed 5 L of milk/d; (2) housed singly and fed 9 L of milk/d; (3) housed in pairs and fed 5 L of milk/d; (4) housed in pairs and fed 9 L of milk/d; or (5) kept with the dam and fed 9 L of milk/d. From 4 to 6 wk of age, all calves were offered 5 L of milk/d to promote intake of solid feed before weaning. At 6 wk of age, all calves were weaned, and at 7 wk of age, they were grouped (7 calves/group: 1 test calf from each treatment and 2 companion calves). The response to restraint during blood sampling was recorded weekly; singly housed calves struggled more during restraint than did calves kept with the dam, and pair-housed calves struggled at an intermediate level. Play behavior was recorded for 20 min/wk after the provision of fresh straw; calves housed singly and fed a low milk allowance spent less time playing than did calves in all other treatments. Three days after grouping, calves were subjected to a feed competition test; calves receiving the high milk allowance and housed in pairs spent more time feeding than did those receiving the high milk allowance and housed singly, with all other treatments showing intermediate responses. These results indicate that social contact decreased responses to restraint and increased play and competitive success. The high milk allowance increased play but reduced competitive success after grouping. Lower responses to restraint indicated less responsiveness to stress. Play is considered an indicator of positive welfare, and competitive success helps calves succeed in a group environment.
Copyright © 2012 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.