Calves’ play behaviour linked to weight gain around weaning

08 Jun 2015

The-home message: Locomotor play during and immediately after weaning may indicate that a dairy calf is adapting to weaning and is able to maintain its energy intake and weight gain. In dairy calves, weaning can be stressful, leading to reduced eating and poor growth. Locomotor play such as running, jumping and bucking - considered a measure of good welfare in growing animals - is also often reduced after weaning. Researchers in Canada have now investigated the relationship between locomotor play and the effect of adjusting weaning age according to individual calves’ abilities to eat solid feed to maintain energy intake and weight gain during weaning. Fifty-six Holstein heifer calves housed in groups of eight were fed milk, grain starter and hay from automated feeders, with their running behaviour measured before and after weaning. Weaning began when their voluntary intake of grain starter reached either 200g or 400g/day, and weaning was completed when starter intake reached either 800g or 1600g/day. Before weaning, older calves ran less than young ones and the duration of running correlated with weight gains and digestible energy intake. Immediately after weaning, digestible energy intake and locomotor play decreased but no correlation was observed between these two factors. One week after weaning, the duration of running was correlated with both energy intake and weight gain. Digestible energy intake increased but locomotor play continued to decrease. Researcher Giuliana Miguel-Pacheco concluded that the amount of running a calf does after weaning partly reflects energy intake and weight gain, supporting suggestions that locomotor play is a good indicator of welfare and fitness of growing animals. Adjusting the weaning of calves according to intake of solid feed does improve energy intake and weight gain during and after weaning, but does not prevent the marked reduction in locomotor play that occurs immediately after weaning. Dr Miguel-Pacheco suggests that the reduction in energy intake is not the sole reason why locomotor play decreases at weaning, but that these results support suggestions that measures of locomotor play in young calves can be used to assess farm management practices associated with weaning. Relationship between locomotor play of dairy calves and their weight gains and energy intakes around weaning G. G. Miguel-Pacheco, A. Vaughan, A. M. de Passillé and J. Rushen Animal By Joanne Stocks, University of Nottingham