The influence of personality and weaning method on early feeding behavior and growth of Norwegian Red calves

Laura Whalin, Heather Neave, Julie Føske Johnsen, Cecilie M. Mejdell, Kristian Ellingsen-Dalskau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Some research has described a relationship between personality and feeding behavior at weaning in Holstein dairy calves; our objective was to determine if personality traits, especially sociability, are associated with differences in feeding behavior and growth in Norwegian Red calves. Our secondary objective was to assess the interaction between personality traits and gradual weaning method (by age or by concentrate intake) on the behavior and growth of calves. Twenty-seven Norwegian Red calves were housed in 7 groups of 3 to 5 calves, with group composition based on birthdate to ensure that there were no more than 21 d between the youngest and oldest calves. Calves had access to an automated milk and concentrate feeder with ad libitum access to concentrates, water, hay, and silage. Calves were semi-randomly assigned to be either gradually weaned by age at d 56, or weaned by intake, where weaning was initiated based on reaching specific concentrate intake targets. We measured milk intake, concentrate intake, and the number of unrewarded visits to the automated feeder during each of 5 experimental periods: preweaning (12 L/d; 10–30 d of age), weaning (milk allowance gradually reduced by method until completely weaned), weaning week (3 d before weaning and the first 7 d of 0 L/d milk allowance), postweaning (20 d after complete milk removal), and the total experimental period (10–20 d postweaning). At 21 and 80 d of age, individual behavioral responses toward novelty and isolation (indicative of personality) were recorded in 3 personality tests: novel environment, novel object, and a social motivation test (time taken to return the group). At 83 d of age, a group novel object test was conducted. Principal component analysis revealed 3 factors interpreted as personality traits (playful/exploratory, vocal/active, interactive in group test) that together explained 56% of the variance. Calves that were more playful/exploratory consumed more milk per day preweaning and more concentrate per day over the experimental period. Calves that were more vocal/active (interpreted as a type of sociability trait where vocalizations and pacing serve to communicate with conspecifics when isolated from herd) had lower preweaning milk intakes and lower concentrate intakes over the experimental period. Calves that were more interactive in the group test (interpreted as a type of sociability trait when with other herd mates) had lower preweaning and weaning concentrate intakes. There was no interaction between personality traits and weaning method on feeding behavior or performance outcomes; however, calves that were weaned by intake (successfully reached all concentrate targets) had higher average daily gains postweaning, likely due to consuming more concentrate per day over the entire experiment, than calves who failed to reach all targets, or were weaned by age. We concluded that the sociability traits of Norwegian Red calves were related to individual differences in milk and concentrate intake. Although the relationship between personality and feeding behavior and growth did not depend on weaning method, gradual weaning based on individual concentrate intakes provides an opportunity for calves to wean at a pace that fits the needs of each individual calf.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Volume105
Issue2
Pages (from-to)1369-1386
Number of pages18
ISSN0022-0302
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

Keywords

  • animal welfare
  • dual purpose
  • gradual weaning
  • temperament

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