Does temperament affect learning in calves?

L.E. Webb*, C.G. van Reenen, M.B. Jensen, O. Schmitt, E.A.M. Bokkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of the study was to investigate how temperament affects learning ability in calves.Nine two-month-old Holstein-Friesian bull calves were subjected to four challenge tests:novel object (NOT), novel environment (NET), social isolation (SIT), and social isolationwith a novel environmental cue (SI/E). During these tests, hypothesised temperament vari-ables were recorded. Hypothesised learning variables were recorded during training on anoperant task.Principal component analysis (PCA) was conducted on temperament variables and learn-ing variables separately. Principal components (PCs) hypothesised to reflect underlyingtemperament and learning traits were extracted from these two PCAs using the Kaiserrule. Spearman’s rank correlations were carried out to determine relationships betweentemperament and learning PC scores.Four temperament PCs were extracted from the PCA on temperament variables, andthese were proposed to reflect fearfulness, activity, exploration, and attention towards theenvironment. These hypothesised underlying temperamental traits were consistent withfindings of previous studies using larger numbers of calves. Two learning PCs were extractedfrom the PCA on learning variables, and these were proposed to reflect feed motivationand working speed. A single correlation was found between temperament and learning PCscores: high activity was associated with low feed motivation. This preliminary exploratorystudy suggests that temperament, as assessed during challenge tests, may affect learningan operant conditioning task in calves. Understanding how temperament affects learningin calves can help with the training of calves on novel automated feeding apparatuses oron novel feed components, and can thus help improve calf health and welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-39
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • individual coping characteristics
  • different rooting materials
  • double demand curves
  • inbred rat strains
  • cross-point
  • animal preferences
  • yearling horses
  • heifer calves
  • pigs
  • strategies


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