Complex social housing reduces food neophobia in dairy calves

J. H.C. Costa, R. R. Daros, M. A.G. von Keyserlingk, D. M. Weary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Animals are often reluctant to consume novel feeds. Research suggests that social housing can reduce fearfulness in animals. The aim of this study was to test the prediction that social housing reduces food neophobia in dairy calves. Beginning immediately at birth, Holstein bull calves were either reared individually (n. =. 18) or in a complex social group with other calves and cows (n. =. 18). In food neophobia tests, calves were exposed to 2 identical buckets, one empty and the other filled with a novel food (chopped hay in trial 1 and chopped carrots in trial 2). Calves were tested for 30. min/d on 3 consecutive days starting at 70 d of age. Regardless of the type of food, socially housed calves consumed more of the novel feed compared with individually housed calves. In trial 1, intake of hay as fed averaged 35. ±. 6 versus 18. ±. 6. g/d for socially versus individually housed calves. In trial 2, intake of chopped carrots as fed averaged 27. ±. 6 versus 6. ±. 6. g/d for socially versus individually housed calves, respectively. Social rearing decreased the latency to eat the novel feed. Calves housed in a complex social group began eating the hay after 1:23. ±. 1:13 versus 3:58. ±. 1:10. min:s for individually housed calves. Latency to begin eating the chopped carrots averaged 3:09. ±. 1:17 versus 6:38. ±. 1:13. min:s for socially versus individually housed calves. Treatment had no effect on time spent eating, latency to approach the food bucket or the empty bucket in either trial, or on time spent manipulating the empty bucket. These results indicate that housing dairy calves in a complex social group reduces food neophobia. More generally, this study contributes to a series of studies showing that calves raised in more complex social environments may be better able to transition to other changes in their environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7804-7810
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all the staff and students of the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre who helped in this experiment, especially Eraldo Drago Filho and Julie Wittrock for their help with data collection. J. H. C. Costa is supported by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Brasilia, Brazil) . The research was supported by a Discovery Grant to D. M. Weary from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). General support for UBC Animal Welfare Program is via NSERC’s Industrial Research Chair Program with industry contributions from the Dairy Farmers of Canada (Ottawa, ON, Canada), British Columbia Dairy Association (Burnaby, BC Canada), Westgen Endowment Fund (Milner, BC, Canada), Intervet Canada Corporation (Kirkland, QC, Canada), Zoetis (Kirkland, QC, Canada), BC Cattle Industry Development Fund (Kamloops, BC, Canada), Alberta Milk (Edmonton, AB, Canada), Valacta (St. Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, Canada), and CanWest DHI (Guelph, ON, Canada).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Dairy Science Association.


  • Dietary transition
  • Feeding behavior
  • Group housing
  • Weaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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