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Effects of individual and pair housing of calves on long term heifer production on a UK commercial dairy farm

Mahendran, Sophie; Blackie, Nicola; Wathes, D. Claire; Booth, Richard


Sophie Mahendran

Nicola Blackie

D. Claire Wathes

Richard Booth


Pair housing of pre-weaning dairy calves has previously demonstrated positive impacts on their growth, health and behaviour, but longer-term effects on production are still relatively unknown. This study followed a cohort of 431 Holstein heifers recruited from a single UK commercial dairy farm from weaning until either culling or the end of their first lactation. All animals were allocat-ed to either individual or pair housing as a pre-weaning calf. Following weaning, all heifers were managed the same through group housing, feeding with total mixed rations, use of automatic heat detection for artificial insemination, and weighing every two months until conception. Farm staff identified disease occurrences, which were treated following standard operating procedures. First lactation monthly milk recording was used to measure milk yields and somatic cell counts. Overall mortality (voluntary and involuntary) was 26.6%, with a decreased hazard of exiting the herd if the heifer was pair housed as a calf (HR 0.70; P = 0.067). The voluntary cull rate was highest in the post-insemination period (13.0%) due to poor fertility. Heifers that were pair housed as calves had significantly increased odds of developing udder health issues as a primiparous cow (OR = 1.93, P = 0.022). Despite this, the 305-day milk yields were not associated with the housing group. However the total milk produced per calf recruited into the original study was greater for pair housed compared to individually housed calves (8088 kg Vs 7115 kg, P = 0.071), which is likely due to the significantly higher hazard of individually housed calves exiting the herd prem-aturely.


Mahendran, S., Blackie, N., Wathes, D. C., & Booth, R. (in press). Effects of individual and pair housing of calves on long term heifer production on a UK commercial dairy farm. Animals,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 26, 2023
Online Publication Date Dec 29, 2023
Deposit Date Dec 21, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 12, 2024
Print ISSN 2076-2615
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Publisher URL


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