Behaviour and welfare of veal calves fed different amounts of solid feed supplemented to a milk replacer ration adjusted for similar growth

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Veal calves in Europe are typically fed large quantities of milk replacer and small amounts of solid feed, a diet known to lead to the development of abnormal oral behaviours in these animals. These abnormal oral behaviours are thought to be an indication of frustration, chronic stress, and hence poor welfare. The present study investigated how different feeding strategies, differing in solid feed and milk replacer provision, affected the behaviour and welfare of veal calves across time. Four treatment groups (A–D) comprising of 12 Holstein–Friesian bull calves each (7.6 ± 0.1 weeks old and 54.7 ± 0.3 kg at arrival), penned in groups of three, were fed one of four amounts of a solid feed mixture, i.e. 50% concentrates, 25% fresh maize silage, and 25% wheat straw (on dry matter [DM] basis): A = 0, B = 9, C = 18, and D = 27 g DM/kg0.75/d. Provision of milk replacer was adjusted to achieve similar average daily gain across treatments. Behaviour was recorded around feeding (10 min continuous focal observations of individual calves) and throughout the day (7 sessions of 30 min scan sampling at 5 min interval every 2 h from 06:30 h) every week for four months. In an attempt to find an easy practical method to measure behavioural response to feeding strategy, two 3-min behavioural tests were carried out: (1) in months 1 and 3, calves were presented with a ball and latency to make oral contact with it was recorded; and (2) in month 1, calves were presented with an overall and time spent orally manipulating (i.e. chewing or licking) it was recorded using scan sampling every 10 s. Calves in treatment D displayed less abnormal oral behaviours around feeding, less tongue playing throughout the day, and more chewing in the first two months, compared to treatment A. Treatment B only led to lower tongue playing levels compared to A and treatment C had no benefit in terms of reducing abnormal oral behaviours. Although a solid feed dose–response was expected on the display of abnormal behaviours in veal calves, treatment C did not fit within this expectation. These findings point to a more complex relationship between solid feed and abnormal oral behaviour frequency in veal calves. The two behavioural tests distinguished the different treatments as expected, and thus showed a solid feed dose–response. Because of an increase in chewing and ruminating efficiency over time, amounts of solid feed should be increased with age to maintain high levels of chewing and ruminating. Moreover, high levels of chewing and ruminating may have to be maintained long enough at the beginning of the fattening period to lead to a reduction in abnormal oral behaviours
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-116
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number2-4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • rumen development
  • stereotypies
  • inference
  • animals
  • models


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