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The effect of calf jacket usage on performance, behaviour and physiological responses of group-housed dairy calves

  • G. Scoley (a1) (a2), A. Gordon (a3) and S. J. Morrison (a1)

Abstract

Poor performance and ill-health of calves in the pre-wean period can affect future productivity. Increasing numbers of producers are opting to use calf jackets as a means of mitigating the potential negative effects of low ambient temperatures, wind speed and precipitation on growth and health. This study aimed to use a range of noninvasive monitoring technologies to investigate the effects of using calf jackets in the first 3 weeks of life on calf performance and behavioural and physiological parameters. Ninety Holstein-Friesian calves were allocated to one of the two treatments: (i) Jacketed until 21 days of age and (J; n = 44) ii. Nonjacketed (NJ; n = 46). Calves were group housed and fed milk replacer (MR) and concentrate solid feed via automatic feeders. Calves were weaned at day 56, and the experiment was completed at day 63. Health assessments were conducted on a daily basis throughout the experiment using predefined faecal and respiratory scoring protocols. A range of novel, noninvasive monitoring technologies were used to examine the activity, heart rate and thermal profiles of calves on an individual basis throughout the experimental period. There were no differences in calf live weight (LWT), average daily gain (ADG) or feed conversion efficiency (FCE) in J and NJ calves between days 5 to 20. However, NJ calves consumed more MR and had more unrewarded visits to the milk feeder than J calves during this period. Although calf LWT was comparable across treatments in the week following jacket removal (days 21 to 28), both ADG and FCE tended to be greater in NJ calves. There were no treatment differences in calf LWT at the end of the study (d63). When measured over a period of 24 h and at a mean ambient temperature of 7.7°C, skin surface temperature was 6.37°C higher in J calves. Core body temperature was higher in J calves between days 5 to 20; however, there were no differences in IR eye or IR rectal temperature. No differences in lying behaviour occurred, with calves spending 18 and 17 h/day lying between days 5 to 20 and days 21 to 28, respectively. Under the climatic and management conditions described, no significant benefits to calf performance were found as a result of the provision of calf jackets to group-housed calves in the first 3 weeks of life. The higher frequency of unrewarded visits to the milk feeder in NJ calves during the first 3 weeks of life could be suggestive of a lack of satiety in these calves.

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The effect of calf jacket usage on performance, behaviour and physiological responses of group-housed dairy calves

  • G. Scoley (a1) (a2), A. Gordon (a3) and S. J. Morrison (a1)

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