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Effects of space allowance on activity and cleanliness of group-housed dairy calves.

M. B. Ugarte Marin



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Effects of space allowance on activity and cleanliness of group-housed dairy calves.
M. B. Ugarte Marin*1,2, K. J. Rapp2, A. Abraham2, K. N. Gingerich2, E. K. Miller-Cushon2. 1Universidad Nacional de C�rdoba C�rdoba, Argentina, 2University of Florida Gainesville, FL.

With increasing social housing for dairy calves, there is a need to refine housing management practices to improve performance and welfare. Our objective was to measure the effect of pen space allowance on calf activity patterns and cleanliness. Holstein heifer calves (n = 30; 5 calves/pen) were group-housed at 14 d � 2.8 d of age (mean � SD). After a 7 d adaptation, each pen (n = 6) was exposed to 3 different space allowances (3.7, 4.6, and 5.6 m2/calf) in a random order, according to a replicated Latin square design with three 7-d periods (period 1, d 22—28; period 2, d 29—35; and period 3, d 36—42). Calves were provided milk replacer (12 L/d) ad libitum via an automated milk feeder and gradually weaned over 10 d, beginning at 48 � 3 d of age. Lying time was measured continuously using electronic leg-based accelerometers. Calf cleanliness was recorded twice a week based on a scoring chart (1 = calf is clean or only dirty near feet, to 4 = thighs and legs dirty). We calculated daily standing time, bout frequency, and bout duration, and cleanliness scores were averaged across experimental period. We also calculated the coefficient of variation for activity outcomes at the pen level to determine the effect of space allowance on within-pen variability. These data were analyzed in a mixed model with space allowance, period, and order of exposure as fixed effects, and day as a repeated measure for activity data (with pen as subject). Cleanliness score (2.2; SE = 0.1; P = 0.82) was not affected by space allowance. Standing time (389 min/day; SE = 16.4; P = 0.31) did not differ between treatments. However, with greater space allowance, calves had more frequent standing bouts (22.6 vs. 20.3 bouts/d; 5.6 vs. 3.7 m2/calf; SE = 0.96; P < 0.001) of shorter duration (P = 0.0027). The coefficient of variation for standing behavior outcomes all increased with decreasing space allowance (P < 0.04). Overall, these results suggest that reducing space allowance affects patterns of activity at the pen level, and increasing variability within the pen suggests that individual calves may be differentially affected.

Keywords: dairy calf, space allowance, resting.