January 2023


Many milk-fed dairy calves are not provided forage. In these settings, calves often perform abnormal repetitive behaviors (ARBs), including tongue rolling and nonnutritive oral manipulation (NNOM), which, based on their form, seem similar to movements used when processing feed. Feeding hay, typically presented as a short chop (≤5 cm) in a bucket, reduces ARBs. Our objective was to evaluate whether altering the presentation method of long hay (∼19 cm), by providing it in a bucket or a novel polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe feeder, could reduce ARBs. Holstein heifer calves were housed individually on sand and fed ad libitum starter grain and limited milk replacer (5.7–8.4 L/d step-up) via a bottle (Control, n = 9) or given access to mountaingrass hay in a bucket (Bucket, n = 9) or in a PVC pipe feeder (Pipe, n = 9). The 56 × 10.2 cm (length × diameter) PVC pipe feeder had 4 openings that were 6.35 cm wide, which required the calf to insert her tongue into the pipe and curl her tongue to extract hay. Treatments were applied from birth through 50 d of age, when step-down weaning began and TMR was provided to all calves. Calves were fully weaned at d 60. At wk 4 and 6, oral behaviors (eating, ruminating, drinking water, sucking milk, self-grooming, NNOM, tongue rolling, tongue flicking, and panting) were recorded by direct observation for 24 h using 1–0 sampling during 5-s intervals. Feeding long hay, regardless of presentation method, increased overall DMI, grain intake, and ADG compared with Control calves. Hay provision also increased rumination (25 vs. 15% of 24-h observations in Control) and eating time (5.5 vs. 2% in Control). Abnormal behaviors were seen in all calves. Hay provision reduced some of these, including NNOM (5 vs. 9% in Control). There was no difference in NNOM between calves fed hay in a pipe or bucket, even though Bucket calves consumed more hay (178 vs. 129 g/d in wk 6) and tended to spend more observations eating hay than Pipe calves (4.5 vs. 3%). Hay provision did not affect other behaviors: drinking water (0.5%), grooming (3%), or tongue flicking (3%). We also found evidence of other abnormal oral behaviors that have received less attention. Calves showed signs of polydipsia, and displayed excessive grooming, the latter indicated by overall duration, number of bouts per day, and duration of individual bouts (up to 25 min). Tongue rolling was expressed at low levels (up to 0.4% of intervals) but by 85% of calves. Feeding hay, both in a bucket and using novel methods, was not enough to counteract the welfare challenges associated with individual housing and limited ability to suck milk (<1% of time). Provision of long hay, regardless of presentation method, promotes rumination, improves performance (higher grain intake and ADG) and reduces at least some, but not all, of the considerable abnormal oral behaviors these calves performed.


Blair C. Downey, Cassandra B. Tucker