UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Applying the natural living construct of animal welfare to dairy calf management Whalin, Laura Katherine


Citizens frequently raise concerns about the lack of naturalness in systems used for farm animals, including calves reared as part of the dairy production system. The aim of my thesis was to integrate components of natural living into calf management practices and use different research methods to explore how these practices affect calf behaviour and welfare. In Chapter 2, I reviewed the literature on the behavioural development of calves in pasture and rangeland conditions and identified characteristics of these more natural systems that have been or could be incorporated into modern dairy calf management. The available evidence indicates that calves reared together with their mothers in a herd on pasture or on rangeland perform a range of social behaviours, begin grazing at a young age, and slowly transition from milk to a solid feed diet. In Chapter 3, I focused on ways to gradually wean calves from milk, and investigated how personality (particularly sociability) could explain variability in feeding behaviours and growth. I found that gradually weaning calves by individual intakes provides them with an opportunity to wean at a pace that meets the needs of the individual. Additionally, calves that were more ‘playful/exploratory’ consumed more milk and concentrate, while calves with more sociable traits (‘vocal/active’ and ‘interactive in the group test’) consumed less concentrate. In Chapter 4, I explored calf preferences for an outdoor space during summer. Calves increased their time spent outside during their first 6 wk of age, and decreased their time outside after 6 wk of age and on rainy days. In Chapter 5, I compared the behavioural development (particularly feeding) and problem-solving abilities (evaluated through the completion of a detour task) of calves housed indoors to calves provided daytime pasture access. Pasture calves appeared more active pre-weaning, and grazed and browsed throughout the experiment. These calves also appeared to engage in fewer non-nutritive oral behaviours, and appeared less reactive during the food neophobia tests and detour task. Collectively these studies provide evidence that management practices can be modified to incorporate the natural living of calves.

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