Space allowance influences individually housed Holstein male calves' age at feed consumption, standing behaviors, and measures of immune resilience before and after step-down weaning

L. E. Hulbert, M. S. Calvo-Lorenzo, M. A. Ballou, K. C. Klasing, F. M. Mitloehner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Many dairy calves in the southwestern regions of the United States are raised in wooden hutches with 1.23 m 2 of free space that house 3 calves individually. Producers claim that calves in hutch systems are not ready to wean and be placed in groups at the country-average age of 6 wk. Calves may remain in this individual housing system until as late as 10 wk of age. The objective of this study was to modify space allowance of hutches and evaluate weaning readiness using age at solid feed consumption, standing behaviors, and measures of immunity. Calves were randomly assigned at 4 d of age to conventional (CONV; 1.23 m 2 of space; n = 18), moderate (MOD; 1.85 m 2 of space; n = 17), or maximized (MAX; 3.71 m 2 of space; n = 19) space allowance in hutches. These modifications also changed the number of calves housed per hutch from 3 (CONV) to 2 (MOD) and 1 (MAX). Calves were fed milk replacer via bottle twice daily until weaning and offered ad libitum feed throughout the experiment. Step-down weaning was initiated (Wi) at age 53 or 54 d by withdrawal of the p.m. bottle and was completed (Wc) 11 d later by removal of the a.m. milk replacer. Accelerometer data for standing behaviors were collected relative to Wi (3 consecutive days to represent −4 wk, −3 d, 3 d, and 3 and 5 wk). Blood samples were collected in the a.m. just before Wi (d 0) and at d 3, 11, 14, and 18 after Wi. Calves provided with more space (MOD and MAX) compared with CONV calves consumed feed at an earlier age and had slightly healthier erythrocytes, greater circulating glucose, and fewer circulating eosinophils. The CONV calves had haptoglobin (Hp) responses to the stressors of both Wi and Wc and had more IFN-γ from whole blood stimulated with phytohemagglutinin-P. The MAX calves had the least active neutrophils (phagocytosis and oxidative burst), but MOD calves' leukocytes secreted the most TNF-α from whole blood stimulated with lipopolysaccharide. Just before and after weaning, MAX calves spent more time per day in the standing position than CONV and MOD calves and had an Hp response to Wc, but MOD calves did not have an Hp response to Wi or Wc. Based on these results, MOD calves were the most ready for weaning; therefore, they potentially can be moved to group housing at an earlier age than CONV calves, thus improving animal welfare concerns over space allowance and individual housing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4506-4521
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Volume102
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2019

Keywords

  • bovine
  • immune
  • stress

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