Kansas City, Missouri hosted the 2014 annual American Dairy Science Association meeting in July.  Scientists and students alike from all over the world presented and discussed many different areas of dairy science.  Strategies for housing both pre and post-weaned calves was one topic area discussed and below is a glance at some of the research presented.

Competition in the milk-feeding stage affects post-weaning feeding behavior of pair-housed dairy calves

This study from the University of Guelph, assessed how pre-weaning exposure to feed competition impacts post-weaning feeding and social behavior.  Twenty-five calves were pair housed and fed free choice milk and solid feed.  Pre-weaning, the pair was either fed competitively (1 milk bucket per pen and1 solid feed bucket per pen) or non-competitively (2 milk buckets per pen and 2 solid feed buckets per pen) until 7 weeks of age.  Post-weaning all pairs were fed a pelleted diet non-competitively (2 buckets per pen) in weeks 8 to 9 and competitively (1 bucket per pen) in weeks 10 to 11.  Calves fed competitively during pre-weaning had greater rates of intake and more frequent meals than when allowed to eat for a non-competitive period post-weaning.  During a competitive feeding period, rates of intake and frequency of meals were greater for calves than those fed non-competitively over time.  During competitive feeding periods, calves eating together became less frequent.  Calves displacing each other from the feed became more frequent for both non-competitive and competitive feeding systems. Take home message: Calves fed competitively may have greater rates of intake and frequencies of meals over time.

The effect of Pre-Weaning Feeding and Housing Strategy on Calf Growth Performance and Behavior Following Post-weaning Housing Transition

The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of pre-weaning feeding and housing strategy on post-weaning growth, intake of hay and grain, and behavior.  Forty eight Calves were assigned to one of three treatments pre-weaning at the Miner Institute (All calves were fed milk reconstituted using milk replacer powder): 1, feeding a fixed amount of milk in an individual hutch, 2, feeding free choice milk in individual hutches or 3, feeding free choice milk to 4 calves housed in a group hutch.  At 10 weeks of age, each calf was moved into group housing with other calves from the same treatment.  No effects on body weight, hip height, or body length were shown post-weaning for any treatment (Table 1).  After weaning, calves spent more time in contact with each other in treatment 3 than the other two treatments  Take home message: Calves raised in a group spent more time in contact with another calf post-weaning which may indicate a less stressful move to group housing.

Measurements taken at week 10

Fixed amount of milk

Free choice in hutch

Free choice in group

Body Weight, lbs.




Hip Height, inches




Body Length, inches




Table 1. Measurements of calves assigned to each treatment


Effects of bedding frequency on lying behavior of weaned calves 

The objective of this study was to evaluate if lying behavior of weaned calves was altered by bedding frequency.  The study, conducted in Spain, utilized 28 male calves that were bedded with sawdust every other day or every 4 days in individual hutches.  Lying behavior and dry matter content of the bedding was measured daily.  The bedding applied every other day stayed drier than the bedding applied every 4 days.  Take home message: While the bedding was wetter, lying behavior was not affected for calves housed in hutches that received bedding every 4 days.

Impact of feeding and housing strategy on calf performance and behavior

This study evaluated calf performance and behavior when fed 2 or 3 times per day and housed either individually or paired.  This study, performed at Mississippi State University, used 53 Holstein calves and found no effect on body weight or behavior for calves fed at different frequencies and housed individually or paired.  Take home message: Feeding frequency had little to no effect on feed intake and rate of gain.

Effect of social housing on pre and post-weaning intake and performance of dairy calves

The purpose of this study was to assess the short and long-term effects of social housing on feed intake and feeding behavior.  This study, conducted at the University of Guelph, housed twenty Holstein calves either individually or in pairs until weaning at 7 weeks.  All calves were given free choice milk and feed.  Upon weaning, individually housed calves were moved into pairs and already paired calves were kept in their respective group.  Calves that were pair housed pre-weaning ate more solid feed pre and post-weaning.  During weaning, average daily gain for pair housed calves was greater, 1.48 pounds versus 0.90 pounds for individually fed calves.  Take home message: Overall pair housed calves had a higher solid feed intake pre-weaning and during weaning. 

The above glance demonstrates the great work being performed by researchers around the world.  Calves are vital to our industry’s growth and performance.  Continued efforts put forth by researchers will only enhance the industry.

Authors: Barbara Wadsworth and Jeffrey Bewley

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