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Socialization for Success: Two Recent Studies Expand Our Understanding of How Early Social Housing Helps Dairy Calves Thrive

Philadelphia | December 19, 2023

Two articles in JDS Communications® explore potential housing advancements for dairy calves and their impact on behavior, personality, and future well-being  

Dairy industry professionals continuously work to ensure the highest possible welfare for dairy calves, including fine-tuning their housing to improve overall health, well-being, and performance. Two new studies in JDS Communications(opens in new tab/window) are illuminating our understanding of paired housing in the critical newborn and pre-weaned stages of dairy lives by showing that housing designed to facilitate early socialization can build behavior skills, shape calf personalities, and ultimately, set up animals for success in the herd.  

Dairy cows are social creatures—they seek contact with fellow calves after birth, and their eventual social status within herds can play a role in their access to water and food. Competitive access to resources was the focus of a new study(opens in new tab/window) from Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, PhD, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her team. During this first-of-its-kind competition study for this age group, the team focused on how paired housing might particularly impact the social competition skills of preweaning dairy calves.  

Dr. von Keyserlingk explained, “We know from previous research that adoption of social housing—or pairing two or more calves together—can positively impact future resilience and behavior. We wanted to understand the effect of early social housing on dairy calves’ competitive skills, meaning their willingness and speed to take action toward consuming milk when another calf is in contention for the same bottle.” 

To do so, the research team observed a group of 18 three-week-old bull and heifer calves who had been divided equally into either individual or pair housing at 11 days old. At the start of the study, the calves were personality tested to control for the influence of naturally bold personalities on their competitive abilities. Once the team identified their personalities, calves from each housing group were paired together for a competition over a single milk bottle.     

Over five days of testing, the results showed that pair-housed calves spent, on average, more time drinking from the bottle and were faster to approach the milk than individually housed calves.  

Dr. von Keyserlingk said, “Our findings add to the growing evidence that early social housing is beneficial for dairy calves and boosts the behavioral development—such as competition skills—that builds toward future success.”

Caption: Two recent studies published in JDS Communications add to the growing evidence that early socialization helps dairy calf development, well-being, and future success (Credit: iStock.com/Wirestock) 

Similarly, a new study(opens in new tab/window) from the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida led by Emily Miller-Cushon, PhD, examined how group housing impacts dairy calf personality traits.  

Dr. Miller-Cushon noted, “There is growing adoption of social housing for calves in the dairy industry, yet the age of introduction can vary widely, despite evidence across species that indicates social isolation early in life can result in long-term adverse consequences to the calf’s development.”

Dr. Miller-Cushon and her team set out to understand how social housing after birth and during the early preweaning period can influence a calf’s eventual personality traits.  

Dr. Miller-Cushon said, “Personality is of growing interest in dairy cattle as it may be associated with outcomes related to an animal’s performance and welfare, including feeding behavior and weight gain for calves and milk production in adult cows.”

In order to fill in research gaps in the understanding of how early socialization influences personality traits, the team studied 32 heifer and bull calves for four weeks, starting at birth. For the first two weeks, the calves were split into two groups (either individually housed or housed in pairs) before they all moved to group housing at four weeks old. The team then tested the calves’ reactions to standardized tests for assessing personality traits: an open field, a novel object, an unfamiliar calf, and an unfamiliar human test.  

Dr. Miller-Cushon explained, “We found that calves housed in pairs were bolder compared with calves housed individually before grouping when it came to novel objects and unfamiliar calves, which suggests that early-life social contact does have the potential to influence personality traits in group-housed calves.”

While both research teams were quick to advocate for further research into social housing to better understand its benefits over time and implications for management, their combined work provides important guidance on the positive impacts of socialization for dairy calves early in life.   

Notes for editors 

The first article is “Social housing improves dairy calves’ performance in a competition test,” by Malina Suchon, Thomas Ede, Bianca Vandresen, and Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk (https://doi.org/10.3168/jdsc.2023-0378(opens in new tab/window)). It appears in JDS Communications, volume 4, issue 6 (November/December 2023), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier

The article is openly available at https://www.jdscommun.org/article/S2666-9102(23)00066-2/fulltext(opens in new tab/window), and the PDF version is available at https://www.jdscommun.org/action/showPdf?pii=S2666-9102%2823%2900066-2(opens in new tab/window).  

Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, PhD, Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, at [email protected](opens in new tab/window)

The second article is “Social contact from birth influences personality traits of group-housed dairy calves,” by Katie N. Gingerich, Emily E. Lindner, Samantha Kalman, and Emily K. Miller-Cushon (https://doi.org/10.3168/jdsc.2023-0383(opens in new tab/window)). It appears in JDS Communications, volume 4, issue 6 (November/December 2023), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier

The article is openly available at https://www.jdscommun.org/article/S2666-9102(23)00074-1/fulltext(opens in new tab/window), and the PDF version is available at https://www.jdscommun.org/action/showPdf?pii=S2666-9102%2823%2900074-1(opens in new tab/window).  

Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Emily K. Miller-Cushon, PhD, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, at [email protected](opens in new tab/window)

About JDS Communications  

JDS Communications®, an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. The journal publishes narrowly focused, hypothesis-driven original research studies designed to answer a specific question on the production or processing of milk or milk products intended for human consumption. In addition to short research articles, JDS Communications publishes mini reviews—unsolicited, concise review papers. Research published in this journal is broadly divided into the production of milk from food animals (nutrition, physiology, health, genetics, and management) and processing of milk for human consumption (dairy foods). JDS Communications aims for rapid turnaround and a short time to publication. www.jdscommun.org(opens in new tab/window)

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®) 

The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.www.adsa.org(opens in new tab/window)

About FASS Inc. 

Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified (www.bels.org(opens in new tab/window)) technical editors and experienced composition staff. www.fass.org(opens in new tab/window)

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundation(opens in new tab/window), we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

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Contact

JT

Jess Townsend

American Dairy Science Association®

+1 217 239 3331

E-mail Jess Townsend

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Eileen Leahy

Elsevier

+1 732 238 3628

E-mail Eileen Leahy