UBC Theses and Dissertations
Effects of the early social environment on the responses of dairy calves to novel events De Paula Vieira, Andreia
The pronounced responses of dairy calves to novel events such as weaning and mixing form an obvious welfare concern and represent an important challenge for the dairy industry. I hypothesized that providing calves a more natural social environment would reduce these responses. This thesis consists of 5 chapters, beginning with a general introduction (Chapter 1) and ending with a general discussion and conclusion (Chapter 5). Chapter 2 compares the effects of individual vs. pair housing on calf responses to weaning from milk as well as on the adjustment to a novel pen and novel social partners at mixing. This chapter shows that being housed with a social companion increases starter intake pre-weaning, has a buffering effect on vocal responses at weaning and improves the performance of calves after mixing when compared to calves housed individually. Chapter 3 describes the effects of housing dairy calves with an older companion on the development of feeding behavior before and after weaning from milk. This chapter shows that a weaned companion is an important social model during weaning, stimulating early intake of hay pre-weaning, starter intake post-weaning and improving growth relative to calves housed in groups of similar age. Chapter 4 describes the effects of the early social environment on the behavioral responses of dairy calves to environmental and social novelty. The results from this chapter show that individually housed calves are more reactive to both environmental and social novelty when compared to pair housed calves. Calves housed with an older companion are also more reactive to separation from group members but less reactive to the presence of an unfamiliar calf when compared to calves housed in groups of similar age. Chapter 5 discusses the results of this thesis and suggests that future research on the development of the affective and cognitive abilities of dairy calves in different social contexts can improve the welfare of commercially reared dairy calves. Providing calves access to conspecifics of similar age or an older companion can minimize calf responses to weaning from milk and reduce responsiveness to environmental and social novelty during mixing.
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