Locomotor play of veal calves in an arena: Are effects of feed level and spatial restriction mediated by responses to novelty?

Rushen, J.P. and de Passillé, A.M.B. (2014). "Locomotor play of veal calves in an arena: Are effects of feed level and spatial restriction mediated by responses to novelty?", Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 155, pp. 34-41. doi : 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.03.009  Access to full text


When calves are placed in an open arena, they perform locomotor play, which provides a time-efficient means of assessing playfulness. To use this as a method of assessing welfare, we need to relate playfulness to other welfare indicators and understand what factors influence results. The novelty of the arena, the ages of the calves, and the size of the enclosure relative to the calf's home pen can have important effects. We placed veal calves for 15 min in a novel (11 m × 3.2 m) arena and measured the frequency of jumping and the duration of running. To determine whether fearfulness or exploratory behaviour mediates changes in locomotor play, we measured vocalization, defecation, sniffing and latency to enter the arena. In exp. 1, 24 calves were assigned to two feed levels. At about 6 weeks of age, calves on the high feed level did less jumping and running (P < 0.05) but there were no differences in sniffing, defecating or latency to enter the arena. Sniffing was correlated (P < 0.05) with both jumping (r = 0.46) and running (r = 0.56) while the latency to enter the arena was negatively correlated (P < 0.05) with jumping (r = −0.64) and running (r = −0.58). Defecation was not correlated with either running or jumping. There were no effects of feed level at week 10. In exp. 2, 48 calves were housed either in pens (2.1 × 1.8 m) or in stalls (0.65 × 1.8 m) to examine the effects of spatial restriction. When released into the arena, calves in stalls did more running and jumping than those in pens (P < 0.05) with no differences in sniffing, defecating or mooing. When calves in stalls were placed in a pen for 15 min before being placed in the arena, there was a reduction in running and jumping which resulted in calves in stalls running less than calves in pens (P < 0.05). Running and jumping increased with age, and this was associated with increased sniffing. The effect of novelty and age on locomotor play is mediated by the calves’ levels of exploratory behaviour, with calves that show more exploration doing more play. Among younger calves, fear tends to reduce playfulness, but the effects are not strong. Spatial restriction in the home pen results in a rebound in locomotor play in the arena, which is not related to exploration or fearfulness.

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