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The effect of pair versus individual housing on calves’ reactions to disbudding

Agnes Moravcsiková, PhD student at the Institute of Animal Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic, was one of the two winners of the Best Student Presentation Award at the 2021 regional ISAE conference. She presented her work on social support between young calves, and how this can be of potential benefit during stressful procedures such as disbudding. Read more about her research project below.

Despite that dairy calves are mostly housed individually in their early ontogeny (up to 8 weeks of age), there is an increasing focus on housing them socially during this period. Social housing has many positive effects on calf welfare including the advantage of social buffering, i.e., when negative effects of stress are mitigated through social support of a familiar conspecific.

Disbudding is a painful husbandry procedure performed in young calves to prevent bud (horns) growing and social buffering might help calves to recover from this procedure. So far, however, the effect of social buffering has not been tested in relation to this stressful situation. Therefore, we investigated the effect of pair versus individual housing on calves’ reaction to disbudding.

We found that the housing treatment significantly affected calves’ reactions to disbudding. Specifically, pair housed calves fed hay more often than individually housed calves after disbudding. This is the first evidence that housing treatment affects calves' reactions to disbudding, however, the connection to social buffering is not clear. Therefore, further research should compare the welfare of disbudded calves in different types of social housing and try to find more evidence on possible social support after disbudding.


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