- Animals: bovine
- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, housing
For the dairy industry to be financially sustainable, management practices need to meet consumer expectations. Some traditional dairy practices, like calf housing and the use of antibiotics, are the subject of consumer criticism. This project will improve the profitability, sustainability, and quality of life for dairies by identifying ways in which animal welfare and the development of a beneficial gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome can be optimized for dairy calves and brought into line with modern consumer preferences.
This project will investigate how husbandry practices can influence neonatal calf welfare, nutrition and development of the gastrointestinal microbiota, and how these factors contribute to healthy, active and emotionally developed calves that will grow to become productive dairy cows. Recent research has demonstrated how important it is to establish a healthy microbiome early in life and the welfare benefits of paired or group-housed calves, including improved cognitive development, reduced fear responses, and increased curiosity to novel items. In this study, we will investigate the impacts that freezing colostrum has on the structure and function of the GI microbiome and will also determine the effects of paired housing on the development of a healthy microbiome and a healthy calf. We hypothesize that fresh colostrum and paired housing of calves will facilitate the establishment of a healthy GI microbiome and the development of healthy calves, which may lead to more sustainable management practices.
The impacts of feeding frozen or fresh colostrum and housing calves individually or in pairs on welfare and biological functions will be determined. By partnering with commercial dairies and Extension experts, our results will be directly applicable to working dairies and will give them multiple specific tools to develop sustainable calf housing and management systems that meet modern standards of welfare and consumer preference.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Characterize the healthy GI microbiome early in life and describe how freezing colostrum and paired housing impact the structure and function of the GI microbiome
- Define welfare benefits of paired or group-housed calves, including improved cognitive development, reduced fear responses, and increased curiosity to novel items.
- Determine if interactions exist between colostrum, social versus single housing, microbiome structure and function, and welfare in dairy calves
- Educate producers about the importance of social housing and colostrum management for optimal development and long-term productivity of dairy calves, including microbiome differences between calves raised under different colostrum management practices and the effects of paired housing on calf behavior and welfare