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Relationship between locomotor play of dairy calves and their weight gains and energy intakes around weaning

  • G. G. Miguel-Pacheco (a1), A. Vaughan (a1) (a2), A. M. de Passillé (a2) and J. Rushen (a2)

Abstract

Play behaviour has been proposed as a measure of good welfare in growing animals and locomotor play by calves is often reduced after weaning off milk. Adjusting weaning age according to individual calves’ abilities to eat solid feed maintains energy intake and weight gain during weaning. We investigated the effects of this method of weaning on locomotor play of calves and the relationship between locomotor play and energy intake and weight gains. We measured the running behaviour of 56 Holstein heifer calves before and after weaning. Calves were housed in groups of eight, fed milk, grain starter and hay from automated feeders. Weaning began when their voluntary intake of grain starter reached either 200 or 400 g/day, and weaning was completed when starter intake reached either 800 or 1600 g/day. Before weaning, older calves ran less than young ones; and the duration of running correlated with weight gains and digestible energy intake. Immediately after weaning, digestible energy intake and locomotor play decreased but no correlation was observed between these variables. One week after weaning, the duration of running was correlated with both energy intake and weight gain. Digestible energy intake increased but locomotor play continued to decrease. The amount of running a calf does after weaning partly reflects energy intake and weight gain, supporting suggestions that locomotor play is good indicator of welfare and fitness of growing animals. However, the decline in locomotor play following weaning is not solely due to decreased energy intake.

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