Social Licking in Pregnant Dairy Heifers Tresoldi, Grazyne; Weary, Daniel M.; Pinheiro Machado Filho, Luiz Carlos; von Keyserlingk, Marina A. G.
Housing affects social behaviors, such as competition, but little work has addressed affiliative behaviors. This study compared social licking (SL) in pregnant heifers housed indoors (in a free-stall barn) versus outdoors (on pasture), and relationships with competition, feeding and physical proximity to others. Six heifer groups were observed during two six-hour-periods in both treatments. The total number of social events (SL and agonistic interactions) was four times higher when heifers were housed indoors compared to pasture (546 ± 43 vs. 128 ± 7 events/group; P < 0.05). SL as a ratio of the total number of social events was similar in the two treatments (12% vs . 8% of interactions, free-stall and pasture, respectively; P > 0.05). Housing did not affect how the SL bout was initiated and terminated, the duration, the body part licked and behavior preceding licking ( P > 0.05). Animals in close proximity showed higher rates of SL ( P < 0.0001) but not agonistic interactions ( P > 0.05). A previous agonistic event did not predict occurrence or the role of heifers in the following licking event. The higher stocking density indoors likely resulted in increased social interactions.
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