This study aimed to investigate the effect of maternal stocking density during late pregnancy (approximately 60 ± 4 days before calving) on offspring performance during the pre-weaning period. Forty-five dairy calves were born to cows that went through either industry minimum standards (H: n = 24, high stocking density) or more extensive space allowances (L: n = 21, low stocking density) during the dry period. Body weight and average daily gain during the pre-weaning period (day 1–49) were measured. Observations were made of: (i) activity levels (day 2–6); ii) the level of training required to use an automatic feeder, and behavioural reactions to the group environment (d7); (iii) feeding and social behaviour in the group pen (day 7–21); and (iv) responses to weaning (day 40–49) and disbudding (day 28+). Compared to L calves, H calves made more frequent social contacts with pen mates in the group pen (p = 0.003) and decreased their lying time around weaning (p = 0.045). Among the healthy calves, L calves displayed more severe behavioural reactions to the disbudding procedure (p < 0.001), a significant increase in salivary cortisol concentrations (p = 0.013), and more frequent pain-related behaviour (p = 0.036). This study indicated associations between maternal stocking density during late pregnancy and some welfare-relevant offspring outcomes during the pre-weaning period; these effects were found to be modulated by offspring health status.
|Early online date||26 May 2020|
|Publication status||First published - 26 May 2020|
- Dairy calf behaviour
- Pre-weaning period
- Prenatal stress
- Stocking density