UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Understanding Behavioural Development of Calves in Natural Settings to Inform Calf Management Whalin, Laura; Weary, Daniel M.; von Keyserlingk, Marina A. G.


One important type of animal welfare concern is “natural living” (i.e., that animals are able to express natural behaviours that are important to them, and to engage with aspects of the natural world that they find important). The aims of this narrative review were to describe the behavioural development of calves (Bos taurus) in natural settings and use this to identify characteristics of natural systems that may be important to consider relative to this natural living conception of animal welfare. At birth, calves are licked by their mothers and soon stand to suckle for colostrum, and during the milk-feeding period, calves spend much of their time lying down. In natural systems, calves perform a variety of social behaviours with herd-mates, and slowly transition from their mother’s milk to eating solid food, by gradually increasing time spent grazing and ruminating. In contrast, on most commercial dairy systems, dairy calves are removed from their mothers at birth, housed individually, fed restricted amounts of milk and weaned abruptly at a young age. The results of this review suggest that accommodating key natural behaviours, for example through the use of teat feeding of milk, social housing, and gradual weaning, can help address welfare concerns.

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