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Effects of early social contact on dairy calf reactivity to novelty following introduction to group housing.

E. E. Lindner



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Effects of early social contact on dairy calf reactivity to novelty following introduction to group housing.
E. E. Lindner*, K. N. Gingerich, J. M. Rivera, E. K. Miller-Cushon. University of Florida Gainesville, FL.

Social housing affects how calves interact socially and respond to novelty, yet even when group-housed, dairy calves may be initially housed individually after birth. We hypothesized that calves housed individually for 2 wk at birth would be more reactive to novelty after social grouping, compared with calves reared with social contact from birth. Calves were randomly assigned to individual (IH; n = 16 calves) or pair housing (PH; n = 8 pairs) at birth, then mingled between treatments and group-housed (8 calves/pen) at 13 � 2 d of age. Calves were exposed to behavioral tests over 4 d, beginning at 4 wk of age, where the calf was placed in an arena with a start box marked at the entryway and a stimulus placed 2.5 m away, to assess response to: open field test (no stimulus), novel object (ball), unfamiliar calf (2 calves placed in pens), and unfamiliar human. Latency to exit the start box and contact the stimulus, and duration of contact directed toward calf or human, were recorded continuously from video. Data were summarized by pair of calves (either pair-housed or adjacent individual calves) and analyzed in a general linear mixed model with early life housing treatment as a fixed effect and group as a random effect. Calves did not differ in their latency to exit the start box during the open field test (11.9 s; SE = 3.3; P = 0.28). In the novel object test, PH calves tended to exit the box faster (31.9 vs. 91.1 s; PH vs. IH; SE = 4.7; P = 0.09) and contacted the object faster (206.0 vs. 370.3 s; SE = 50.0; P = 0.036). The latency to contact the unfamiliar calf did not differ between treatments, but PH calves spent more time in contact (32.9 vs. 22.6 s; SE = 6.0; P = 0.04). The latency to contact the unfamiliar human also did not differ, but IH calves tended to suck on the unfamiliar human for longer (2.0 vs. 6.0 s; SE = 1.4; P = 0.06). These results suggest that social isolation for the first weeks of life affects behavior after social grouping, increasing neophobia and altering social behavior, resembling effects associated with longer periods of individual housing in the pre-weaning period.

Keywords: dairy calf, social housing, neophobia.