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Early-Life Dam-Calf Contact and Grazing Experience Influence Post-Weaning Behavior and Herbage Selection of Dairy Calves in the Short Term

Abstract : Rearing dairy calves with their mothers could teach them how to graze, optimizing grass use, and improving their welfare and performance. We tested the short-term effects of dam-calf contact experience on grazing and social behavior of weaned calves, monitored over seven days for their first post-weaning grazing experience. "Dam" (D) calves were reared and grazed with their mothers until weaning. "Mixed" calves (M) were separated from their mothers after 4 +/- 0.5 weeks, they experienced dam-calf contact, but not grazing. "Standard" (S) calves had never experienced either dam-calf contact (separated at birth) or grazing. Each group grazed an equivalent pasture plot offering heterogeneous herbage. Scan sampling of calves' activities was performed every 5 min, 6 h per day, on Days 0, 1, 2, 3, and 7. Daily, the time when calves started grazing after introduction to pasture, and the number and duration of their grazing cycles were measured. Daily activities were differentiated into ingestion, rumination, and idling. The proportion of time that calves spent grouped with other individuals or isolated, and standing or lying were recorded. When grazing, their bites were characterized by botanical family group, height of the selected bite and vegetation status. Individual average daily gains from the 2-week periods before and after grazing were calculated, and were equivalent between groups (313 +/- 71 g/d). On Day 0, D-calves started grazing immediately (1 +/- 4.1 min), unlike M- and S-calves (39 +/- 4.1 and 23 +/- 4.1 min), and D-calves grazed patches of dry grass 21.7 times less than M-calves and 16.9 times less than S-calves. Dry herbage patch preference and grazing start time differences disappeared on Day 1. Calves spent the same time ingesting and idling, but M-calves spent on average 1.6 times less ruminating than D- or S-calves. The D-calves showed grazing behavior similar to that of adult cows, selecting grasses throughout pasture utilization, although legumes and forbs were present in the grazed layer. On the contrary, M- and S-calves did not express any specific preference. The S-calves spent more time isolated but had more positive reciprocal interactions than the calves in the other groups.
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Submitted on : Friday, January 8, 2021 - 3:25:21 PM
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Alessandra Nicolao, Mauro Coppa, Matthieu Bouchon, Enrico Sturaro, Dominique Pomiès, et al.. Early-Life Dam-Calf Contact and Grazing Experience Influence Post-Weaning Behavior and Herbage Selection of Dairy Calves in the Short Term. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Frontiers Media, 2020, 7, ⟨10.3389/fvets.2020.600949⟩. ⟨hal-03103999⟩



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