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Dairy calves' preference for rearing substrate

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 14:34 authored by Mhairi Sutherland, Karin SchutzKarin Schutz, Gemma Worth, Mairi Stewart, Mary Foster, Vanessa Cave
Traditional substrate types for dairy calves, such as sawdust, are becoming difficult and/or expensive for farmers to obtain in New Zealand. Therefore there is a need to evaluate alternative rearing substrates that provide an acceptable level of animal welfare. The preference of dairy calves for four different rearing substrates was evaluated. At 1 wk of age, 24 calves were housed in groups of four, in pens which were evenly divided into four rearing substrates: sawdust, rubber, sand and stones. During the first 3 d calves were given free access to all four substrates. Calves were then restricted to each substrate type for 48 h. In order to rank preference, calves were subsequently exposed to two surfaces simultaneously for 48 h until animals experienced all six treatment combinations. Finally, calves were again given free access to all four substrates simultaneously for 48 h. Lying behaviour and location in the pen was recorded for the final 24 h during the free choice and pairwise periods using video recorders and accelerometers. During the restriction period, lying behaviour was recorded for the final 24 h using accelerometers and play behaviour was recorded over 12 h using video recorders. Preference was determined based on lying times on each substrate. During the initial free choice period, calves spent a higher proportion of time lying on sawdust (76.6 %, S.E.M.: 0.90 %) than all other substrates (rubber: 1.6 %, sand: 0.9 % and stones: 0.5, S.E.M.: 0.90 %). When restricted to each substrate, calves spent more time running on sawdust (2.5 min/12 h, S.E.M.: 0.37 min), rubber (2.1 min/12 h, S.E.M.: 0.37 min) and sand (1.7 min/12 h, S.E.M.: 0.37 min) than stones (0.9 min/12 h, S.E.M.: 0.37 min). In addition, calves spent more time lying on sawdust (17.8 h/24 h, S.E.M.: 0.38 h) and rubber (17.2 h/24 h, S.E.M.: 0.38 h) in comparison to sand (16.0 h/24 h, S.E.M.: 0.38 h) and stones (16.3 h/24 h, S.E.M.: 0.38 h). Calf preference ranking was sawdust, rubber, sand then stones. At the end of the study, when given free access to all rearing substrates again, calves spent a higher proportion of time lying on sawdust than all other substrates. In conclusion, dairy calves showed a clear preference for sawdust over rubber, sand and stones. The calves’ preference for sawdust may be associated with the physical and thermal properties in comparison to the alternative substrates.


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© 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No


Elsevier B.V.

Journal title

Applied Animal Behaviour Science


Worth, G. M., Schütz, K. E., Stewart, M., Cave, V. M., Foster, M., & Sutherland, M. A. (2015). Dairy calves' preference for rearing substrate. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 168, 1-9.


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