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The Effects of Different Milk Allowances on the Behaviour and Liveweights of Holstein-Friesian Bull Calves

Despite the importance of milk for young calves, it is often still provided in restricted amounts on farms. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of high and low milk allowance on the behaviour and liveweights of calves from approximately one week of age until one year old. I predicted that calves offered a lower milk allowance would show signs of negative affective state and therefore demonstrate behaviours associated with negative welfare, as well as have lower liveweights, compared to calves offered a greater milk allowance who would sustain a more positive affective state, subsequently expressing behaviours associated with positive welfare and have larger liveweights. Twenty-two Holstein-Friesian bull calves were offered 5 L or 10 L of milk replacer/calf/day from approximately one week of age. Calves were weighed weekly until weaned off milk which then became monthly until one year of age. At three time periods throughout the trial (at four weeks of age, the first time out on pasture, weaning period) the behaviours of the calves were recorded using validated accelerometers and either live observations or video analysis. From one to five weeks of age, calves offered 5 L of milk/day were observed visiting the meal feeder, milk feeder and hay feeder more often (P<0.001, P<0.001 and P=0.028, respectively), were less involved in self and allo-grooming (P=0.011 and P=0.012) and spent less time lying (P=0.024) compared to calves on the 10 L milk allowance. Furthermore, calves offered the higher milk allowance, were 5.7 kg heavier (P<0.001), at five weeks of age compared to the calves offered the lower milk allowance. During the initial period on pasture, the calves offered 5 L of milk/day were observed conducting less ruminating and sternal lying and during the pre-weaning period were observed grazing and standing more often, compared to calves offered 10 L of milk/day who were observed resting and grooming other calves more often. The liveweight differences from five to eleven and a half weeks of age were significantly different, however over the weaning period from twelve to thirteen weeks of age this liveweight difference began to shrink and by fourteen weeks of age, the difference was 5.55 kg. There was no weight difference at one year of age. The milk allowance significantly affected the behaviours and liveweights demonstrated by the calves. This study confirmed this study’s hypothesis that prior to weaning, calves offered more milk demonstrate behaviours associated with positive welfare indicating satiety, comfort and grooming in comparison to calves offered less milk who demonstrate behaviours associated with negative welfare such as hunger and restlessness (higher activity). Creating change in the dairy industry enhancing positive animal welfare gives calves the best opportunity to have a good life. Key words: Positive and negative welfare indicators, behaviour, milk allowance, calves, weight gain, pasture and weaning
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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