Play and social behaviour of calves with or without access to their dam and other cows
The aim of the study reported in this Research Communication was to compare play behaviour and social interactions of dairy calves either separated from their mother and reared in a calf group (Artificial) or with access to their mother and the cow herd (cow-calf contact: Contact). Contact calves had access to a calf area and also to the cow barn where they could suckle their dam. Artificial calves were fed whole milk up to 16 kg per day via an automatic milk feeder and were only kept in the calf area. We observed the animals on 3 d during the first three months of life. Contact calves showed solitary play, consisting predominantly of locomotor play, for longer than Artificial calves and mainly in the cow barn. This indicates higher welfare in Contact calves. In addition, Artificial calves hardly experienced any agonistic interaction, while Contact calves both initiated and received agonistic interactions, which might contribute to the development of higher social competence.