Effects of roughage source, amount, and particle size on behavior and gastrointestinal health of veal calves

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The European Union 1997 Directive, stipulating that veal calves should be fed a minimum of 50 to 250 g of fibrous feed from 8 to 20 wk of age, is vague. A fibrous feed ration maximum of 250 g has been implicated in welfare issues, namely the occurrence of abnormal oral behaviors and poor gastrointestinal health. Past research suggests that this amount is insufficient to prevent the development of abnormal oral behaviors and enabling good rumen development. Different sources and particle sizes of roughage could lead to very different welfare outcomes. In a 3 × 2 × 2 factorial design, 240 group-housed calves (10 ± 1 d; 46.1 ± 0.1 kg) were fed different roughage sources (straw, maize silage, or maize cob silage; the latter 2 were dried and provided no extra moisture compared with straw) in 2 amounts (250 or 500 g of dry matter per day), and 2 particle sizes (chopped or ground). Roughage was supplemented to milk replacer (MR) from 2 wk after arrival. In addition, 60 calves were fed 1 of 3 additional control treatments: MR only (n = 20), MR plus an iron supplement (n = 20), or MR plus ad libitum hay (n = 20). Oral behaviors were recorded using instantaneous scan sampling at 2-min intervals for 2 h in 3 periods per day, at 12 and 22 wk of age. Calves were slaughtered at 24 wk of age and rumen and abomasal health parameters were recorded. Limited provision of straw resulted in behavior comparable with that from unlimited provision of hay, with reduced tongue playing and oral manipulation of the environment, as well as increased chewing compared with diets with no roughage supplement. Straw prevented ruminal hairballs, but impaired rumen development and increased abomasal damage. A higher ration of roughage increased chewing (12 wk), decreased oral manipulation of the trough (12 and 22 wk) and the pen (22 wk), and increased rumen weight. However, more roughage led to increased abomasal damage for certain parameters. Longer feed particles had no obvious benefits for behavior, but decreased hairball prevalence. Overall, unlimited hay had the highest benefit for both behavior and gastrointestinal health. Adding iron to the MR did not alter behavior or gastrointestinal health compared with MR without iron supplement. This study demonstrated that different roughage sources, amounts, and particle sizes have different effects on veal calf behavior and gastrointestinal health, and hence on veal calf welfare. Key words: veal calf , behavior , gastrointestinal health , roughage
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7765-7776
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • growth-performance
  • rumen development
  • abomasal ulcers
  • iron-deficiency
  • beef-calves
  • dry feed
  • welfare
  • forestomach
  • stomach
  • damage


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