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Disbudding affects use of a shelter provided to group-housed dairy calves.

  • Gingerich, K N1
  • Choulet, V2
  • Miller-Cushon, E K3
  • 1 Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.
  • 2 Institut national supérieur des sciences agronomiques de l'alimentation et de l'environnement, AgroSup Dijon, Dijon Cedex, 21079, France. , (France)
  • 3 Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611. Electronic address: [email protected]
Published Article
Journal of Dairy Science
American Dairy Science Association
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2020
DOI: 10.3168/jds.2020-18267
PMID: 32896400


Disbudding in dairy calves is well established as a painful procedure with broad effects on behavior. The hypothesis of this experiment was that group-housed calves subjected to hot-iron disbudding would exhibit social withdrawal, based on use of a shelter providing physical and visual seclusion from the rest of the pen. We examined effects of hot-iron disbudding on use of this shelter, including individual and shared use, and resting behavior within the shelter. Holstein heifer and bull calves (n = 24) were housed in group pens (4 calves/pen; 3.7 × 8.0 m). Each pen contained a 3-sided open-top shelter (1.2 m square, and 1.2 m high) with an additional half-enclosed wall to allow entry, built out of corrugated plastic. Calves were randomly assigned within pen to be disbudded (n = 12; 10 bulls and 2 heifers; 36.2 ± 3.9 d of age) or receive sham handling only (n = 12; 9 bulls and 3 heifers; 36.3 ± 4.2 d of age). Disbudded calves received a local cornual nerve block and a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medication before the procedure. Behavior was recorded continuously from video for 3 consecutive days, beginning immediately following the disbudding procedure or handling. Shelter use was highly variable between calves (ranging from 10.8 min/d to 20.7 h/d), but calves showed individual consistency in their use of the shelter over time. Disbudded calves spent more time in the shelter (4.6 vs. 1.6 h/d; disbudded vs. sham). Social use of the shelter as a percentage of shelter use was not affected by disbudding, but disbudded calves spent more time in the shelter together (31 vs. 9% of shelter use; disbudded vs. sham). Disbudded calves entered the shelter more frequently when it was unoccupied (8.1 vs. 5.5 entries; disbudded vs. sham) and similarly left it more frequently when it was occupied. Disbudded calves used the shelter more during daylight hours (0700 to 2000 h; 8.9 vs. 4.1 min/h) on each day, including d 0 when pain mitigation was effective, whereas use did not differ during the night. Disbudded calves spent approximately 40 min less time lying/d and spent a greater percentage of their lying time inside the shelter. These results suggest that disbudded calves make greater use of environmental features that offer seclusion, with use of the shelter possibly reflecting an increased preference for social withdrawal or for some other aspect of this area of visual and physical separation. Further, these results suggest that disbudding even with recommended pain mitigation affects behavior for at least several days. The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. and Fass Inc. on behalf of the American Dairy Science Association®. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

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