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Effects of social contact from birth on feeding behavior and health early in life and after introduction to an autofeeder.

K. N. Gingerich

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06-23-2020

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Abstract:

T1
Effects of social contact from birth on feeding behavior and health early in life and after introduction to an autofeeder.
K. N. Gingerich*, B. A. Hoffman, E. E. Lindner, E. K. Miller-Cushon. University of Florida Gainesville, FL.

We investigated how social housing in a calf's first weeks of life affects milk feeding behavior, health, and subsequent adaptation to an autofeeder. Holstein heifer calves were randomly assigned to individual (n = 16 calves) or pair-housing (n = 8 pairs) at birth and received milk via a teat bucket (8 L/d; twice daily). Calves were mingled between treatments and group-housed (8 calves/pen) at 13 � 2 d of age and fed via an autofeeder (12 L/d). At birth and upon introduction to the autofeeder, we recorded the number of sessions (based on twice daily feed delivery or autofeeder checks) where the calf did not feed voluntarily and required assistance. We measured daily milk intake and health (scouring events) from birth and daily milk feeding behavior for 1 wk following introduction to the autofeeder. Data were summarized by pair of calves (averaging across adjacent and consecutively enrolled individually-housed calves) and were analyzed in a general linear mixed model with housing treatment as a fixed effect, pen as a random effect for post-grouping outcomes, and day as a repeated measure for milk feeding behavior. Social housing did not affect the number of assists required to learn to use the teat bucket (1.9; SE = 0.2; P = 0.26) or milk intake in the first 2 wk of life (6.1 L/d; SE = 0.2; P = 0.7). All calves developed scours and age when first diagnosed with scours did not differ (6.2 d of age; SE = 0.6; P = 0.4) but pair-housed calves tended to scour for fewer days (4.2 vs. 5.8 d; SE = 0.6; P = 0.06). Upon introduction to the autofeeder, calves did not differ in the number of assists required to feed voluntarily (1.5; SE = 0.2; P = 0.7) but previously individually-housed calves occupied the feeder for longer (34.9 vs. 26.6 min/d; SE = 3.1; P = 0.003) without affecting milk intake (7.3 L/d; SE = 0.5; P = 0.6) or visit frequency (4.0 visits/d; SE = 0.4; P = 0.4). These results suggest that behavior and learning ability surrounding milk feeding are minimally affected by social housing, but pair-housing in the first weeks of life had a positive effect on health and efficiency of autofeeder use.

Keywords: dairy calf, social housing, feeding.