Abstract #W6

# W6
Characterization of use of a molasses-based feeding enrichment and effects on feeding behavior in group-housed dairy calves.
K. Gingerich*1, E. K. Miller-Cushon1, 1University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

We examined the behavioral effects of providing group-housed calves access to a molasses-based feeding enrichment. Holstein heifer and bull calves (n = 32) were group housed (4 calves/pen) at 16 ± 2 (mean ± SD) d of age and provided milk and starter ad libitum via automated feeders. Calves were incrementally weaned over 9 d beginning at 6 wk of age. Pens (n = 4/treatment) were randomly assigned to receive a plastic 20 L tub filled with a hardened molasses-based product (1 tub/pen, hanging on the pen fence) or no enrichment. The tub was weighed weekly to calculate average daily intake. Cameras were mounted above each pen and behavior of the calves that received the tub was continuously recorded for one 24 h period during wk 5 of life. Recorded behaviors included: nutritive visits (calf’s mouth in contact with the tub contents), tub-directed non-nutritive oral behaviors (calf’s mouth in contact with plastic part of the tub), and head-initiated tub contact (any part of the calf’s head, other than the mouth, in contact with the tub). Milk and starter intake and meal characteristics were collected from the automated feeders for the pre-weaning and weaning periods. These data were summarized by pen and week, and analyzed separately by stage (preweaning and weaning) in a repeated measures general linear mixed model. Calves showed interest in the nutritional enrichment, having 25.3 ± 14.2 (mean ± SD; min 7, max 45) nutritive visits/d, and spending 11.3 ± 9.1 min/d during nutritive visits (min 1.2 and max 26.7 min). Calves also directed non-nutritive oral behaviors toward the tub (68.7 ± 48.9 s/d) and pushed on it with their head (106.3 ± 78.2 s/d). Intake from the tub increased over time (15.6 g/calf/d during the first week in the pen vs. 115.1 g/calf/d during weaning; SE = 18.3; P = 0.002). Milk intake (8.0 L/d; SE = 0.66; P = 0.88) and feeder visit frequency (11.5 visits/d; SE = 1.6; P = 0.26) were similar between treatments. Starter intakes were also similar during both preweaning and weaning (P > 0.22). These results suggest that group-housed calves make use of nutritional enrichment, and further work is needed to evaluate effects on a broader range of behaviors.

Key Words: dairy calf, nutritional enrichment, feeding behavior