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Author(s): Bak Jensen M;Kyhn R;
Publication Date: January 1, 2000
Reference: , vol. 67: pp. 35-46.


Under natural or semi-natural conditions, play in calves is typically seen in a social context either as locomotor play or play fighting. Play behaviour has been suggested to be an indicator of good welfare in wild as well as captive juveniles and has been used to assess welfare in different farm environments. In dairy calves kept in pens, lack of sufficient space may inhibit the performance of play behaviour. The present study investigated, firstly, if an increase in space allowance increases the occurrence of play behaviour, and secondly, if calves kept at a low space allowance perform more locomotory play when released individually in a large novel area. A total of 96 dairy calves in six repetitions were housed in groups of four, in pens of either 4, 3, 2.2 or 1.5 m2 per calf from 2 weeks of age. The occurrence of play behaviour in the home environment was recorded continuously for each individual calf during 24 h at 5, 7 and 9 weeks of age. Locomotor play decreased over the weeks (54, 29 and 19 s for weeks 5, 7 and 9 respectively). At 5 weeks of age, calves kept at 4 or 3 m2 per calf performed more locomotor play in the home environment than calves kept at 2.2 or 1.5 m2 per calf. However at 7 and 9 weeks of age no effects of space allowance was found. In addition, the duration of locomotor play was recorded for all calves during an individual 10-min open-field test at 4 and 10 weeks of age. During the open-field test at 10 weeks of age, calves from pens with 1.5 m2 per calf performed more locomotory play than calves on the remaining space allowance treatments. The present study shows that an increase in the available space increases the occurrence of locomotor play in the home environment at 5 weeks of age. It also shows that calves kept in pens with the smallest space allowance performed more locomotor play behaviour when released in a large arena at 10 weeks of age. In summary, an effect of space allowance on early locomotor play was found in calves kept in groups. Under the hypothesis that performance of play associated with positive feelings, increasing space above the minimum requirement of 1.5 m2 per calf to 3.0 m2 per calf in pens with four calves is of significance to the welfare of the animals.

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