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Effects of pair or single housing on performance of dairy calves in outdoor hutches.

R. Salter




Effects of pair or single housing on performance of dairy calves in outdoor hutches.
R. Salter*, J. Van Os. University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI.

Social housing of pre-weaned dairy calves indoors has shown benefits for their welfare, growth, and solid feed intake, which is important for rumen development. Recent research has begun to explore pair raising calves using adjacent outdoor hutches with a shared fence. Our objective was to evaluate pair vs. individual hutch housing effects on performance before and during weaning. Eighty Holstein heifers were individual (n = 16 calves) or pair housed (n = 32 pairs). Calves had ad libitum access to starter. During the pre-weaning period (up to 41 � 1 d of age, mean � SD), calves were fed 3.8 L of pasteurized milk 2 times/d. Calves were weaned in a step-down fashion and fed 1.9 L of milk 2 times/d for 7 d, 1.9 L 1 time/d for 4 d, and were completely weaned by 52 � 1 d of age. Body weights, body-frame dimensions (wither height, hip height, body length, and heart girth) and starter intakes (adjusted for DM%) were measured weekly and averaged within each pair for pair-housed calves. For final BW and body-frame dimensions, linear mixed models were used to evaluate treatment effects, with baseline measurements at 0 d old (BW) and 11 � 2 d old (body-frames) as a covariate. For starter DMI and ADG, treatment and week effects and their interaction were evaluated separately for the pre-weaning and weaning periods (both measures), and 1 week post-weaning (DMI); overall treatment effects were evaluated for the entire period when each measure was collected. Overall, paired calves tended to have higher starter DMI (pair vs. individual: 0.71 � 0.03 vs. 0.59 � 0.05 kg/d, P = 0.07), driven by differences during the weaning period (pair vs. individual: 1.31 � 0.07 vs. 1.01 � 0.10 kg/d, P = 0.03). During the pre- and post-weaning periods, DMI did not differ between treatments (P > 0.31). ADG did not differ overall or during either milk-feeding period (P > 0.58). Final BW and body-frame dimensions did not differ between treatments (P > 0.97). Paired and individual calves had similar growth performance, but during weaning paired calves consumed more solid feeds. These results suggest that calves reared in hutches with a social companion transition better to solid feeds during weaning.

Keywords: social housing, growth, weaning.