Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pair Housing of Preweaned Dairy Calves

There is a growing body of evidence that housing preweaned calves in small groups (for example, pairs) results in higher rates of gain and more positive social behavior when placed in larger groups. They tend to have less stress when weaned and moved into larger pens. These paired-housing studies have been done in barns.

But, if the farm is raising calves in hutches that will not work. Right?

Well, maybe no so impossible.

Research compared (only a small number, however) raising calves individually in hutches and along side them placing 2 hutches next to each other with a common run. Same farm, same calf care procedures, just that some  hutches were paired.

Now, these findings are from a small number of calves (14 individual housed, 16 calves housed as 8 pairs). So, the results should be considered more exploratory rather than conclusive.

The dairy fed milk twice daily. Calves started out at 6L per day and worked up to 10L per day (until 35 days) and then back down to 6L per day (until 56 days). 

Starter intake:
Up to 35 days (period of high milk intake) no difference in calf starter grain intake between individual and paired calves. Figures below are averages for each type of housing.

Between 35 and 56 days (milk cut back to 6L a day)
     Individual-housed calves = 2.2 lbs daily (1.02kg)
     Pair-housed calves = 3.8 lbs daily (1.72kg)

That is 68 percent more starter intake!

In the post-weaning period (days 56 through 67)
    Individual-housed calves = 3.8 lbs. daily (1.71lg)
    Pair-housed calves = 7.7 lbs. daily (3.51kg)

That is 105 percent more starter intake!

Interesting outcomes from a very small sample.

L. Whalen and Others, "Pair housing of dairy calves in modified individual calf hutches." Journal of Dairy Science 100:227 July 2017

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