UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Individual variability in the feeding behaviour of dairy calves and goats Neave, Heather Whittaker


There is individual variability in the development and expression of feeding behaviours in farm animals. This variation cannot be fully explained by differences in genetics, management practices, body size, or growth rate. The aim of my thesis was to describe how personality traits influence feeding behaviour of dairy calves and adult goats during challenging feeding practices, and to investigate alternatives to traditional feeding practices that could help individuals to cope with these challenges by attending to individual needs and promoting natural behaviour. In Chapter 2, I review the evidence that individual variability in feeding behaviour is associated with personality traits of the individual. In Chapters 3 and 4, I focused on the stressful management practice of weaning in dairy calves (i.e. transition from milk onto solid feed diet), and investigated if personality traits could explain variability in feeding behaviours, feed intake, and performance around weaning. I found that calves that were less reactive (exploratory, interactive) performed better during weaning than calves that were more reactive (vocal, inactive) (Chapter 3). When calves were weaned on an individualized weaning plan, I found that individual characteristics (such as fearfulness and learning ability) could explain variability in weaning age (Chapter 4). In Chapters 5 and 6, I focused on feeding practices on dairy goat farms that limit expression of natural feeding behaviours (feeding at floor level) and restricted space at the feeders leading to high amounts of competition to access feed. I provided goats with elevated feeder heights to promote natural browsing behaviours and found that goats ate more from, and competed to access, these feeders more compared to a traditional floor-level feeder (Chapter 5). Goats also differed in their expression of competitive behaviours at different feeder heights: more ‘bold’ goats expressed more aggression and more ‘fearful’ goats avoided competition (Chapter 6). These studies provide evidence that personality traits can explain individual variability in feeding behaviours during challenging feeding practices for dairy calves and goats, and that alternatives to these feeding practices may provide an improved opportunity for individuals to succeed by attending to individual needs and promoting natural behaviour.

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