Early pair housing increases solid feed intake and weight gains in dairy calves


Source: Journal of Dairy Science,  J.H.C.Costa, R.K.Meagher, M.A.G.von Keyserlingk, D.M.Weary


Dairy calves have traditionally been kept in individual pens throughout the milk-feeding period. Social rearing is associated with increased solid feed intake and, hence, higher weight gains before and after weaning. Little is known about the effect of the age at which social housing begins.

The aim of this study was to assess the effects of early versus late pairing on feeding behavior and weight gain before and after weaning. Holstein bull calves were reared individually (n = 8 calves) or paired with another calf at 6 ± 3 d (n = 8 pairs) or 43 ± 3 d of age (n = 8 pairs).

All calves were fed 8 L of milk/d for 4 wk, 6 L/d from 4 to 7 wk, and then milk was reduced by 20%/d until calves were completely weaned at 8 wk of age. Calves were provided ad libitumaccess to calf starter and a total mixed ration (TMR). Body weight and feed intake were measured weekly from 3 to 10 wk of age.Intake of calf starter was significantly higher for the early-paired calves than for individually reared and late-paired calves throughout the experimental period. At 10 wk of age, starter dry matter intake averaged 2.20 ± 0.22, 1.09 ± 0.25, and 1.26 ± 0.33 kg/d for early-paired, late-paired, and individually housed calves, respectively.

Intake of TMR did not differ among treatments, TMR dry matter intake averaged 3.27 ± 0.72, 3.08 ± 0.46, and 2.89 ± 0.54 kg/d for the same 3 treatments. Calves in the early paired treatment also showed significantly higher average daily gain over the experimental period (0.89 ± 0.04 vs. 0.76 ± 0.04 and 0.73 ± 0.04 kg/d for the early-paired, individual, and late-paired calves, respectively). These results indicate that social housing soon after birth can increase weight gains and intake of solid feed.