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Use of a shelter in group-housed calves shows consistency over time and is affected by disbudding.

K. N. Gingerich




Use of a shelter in group-housed calves shows consistency over time and is affected by disbudding.
K. N. Gingerich*, E. E. Lindner, L. M. Coll-Roman, E. K. Miller-Cushon. University of Florida Gainesville, FL.

Changes in social behavior may provide insight into individual experiences of pain. We provided group-housed calves two 3-sided, open top shelters (1.2 � 1.2 m), constructed from corrugated plastic, and examined how shelter use was affected by disbudding. Holstein bull and heifer calves (n = 16) were housed in groups of 8 (4 focal calves/pen in addition to 4 non-study calves; 4 pens total). Calves were randomly assigned within pen to be disbudded (DB; n = 8) or receive handling only (CON; n = 8) at 41 � 3 d. Calves received local anesthetic and analgesic before disbudding. Behavior was recorded continuously from video for 24 h at 30 � 5 d of age, during the week before treatment, and for 72 h after treatment to characterize the number of visits to the shelter (>50% of body inside shelter) and visit duration. Data were summarized by day and analyzed in a general linear mixed model with fixed effects of treatment (DB or CON), day as a repeated measure, and pen as a random effect. Shelter use on the observation day preceding treatment was included as a covariate, and we examined correlation between shelter use in both weeks by treatment using linear regression. All calves entered a shelter at least once during the observation period but there was considerable individual variability in use duration (min = 1.4 min/d; max = 13.6 h/d) and visit frequency (min = 1, max = 25 visits/d). Disbudding did not affect frequency of shelter visits (8.8 visits/d; SE = 1.5; P = 0.56), but visits tended to be longer for DB calves (32.5 vs. 19.2 min; SE = 8.9; P = 0.07). Behavior during the week before treatment was a significant predictor of shelter visit frequency and duration (P < 0.05). Specific regression outcomes suggested that shelter use duration and visit characteristics were consistent between weeks for CON calves (P < 0.002) whereas shelter visit characteristics for DB calves were not correlated between weeks, further suggesting that disbudding altered shelter use. These results suggest that use of a shelter is affected by disbudding, possibly reflecting a changing motivation for social contact, and that facilitating broader behavioral expression may improve welfare.

Keywords: dairy calf, disbudding, social behavior.