Current perspectives on the short- And long-term effects of conventional dairy calf raising systems: A comparison with the natural environment

Melissa C. Cantor, Heather W. Neave, Joao H.C. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Although the neonatal and infancy period is short, it is well documented that the early neonatal environment is critical for appropriate physical, behavioral, and cognitive development that lasts into adulthood. Dairy calves are commonly removed from the dam shortly after birth and raised in individual housing and fed limited milk allowances (4 to 6 L/d) in commercial farms around the world (conventional raising). Individual housing was developed to promote health status and facilitate individual animal monitoring. However, it is associated with high labor demand, and early life social isolation is associated with cognitive and behavioral abnormalities. Recently, group housing and enhanced milk-feeding programs are being increasingly adopted by farms; these practices more closely resemble the social and nutritional environments in natural or seminatural environments when the calf is raised with the dam. Conventional raising may lead to short- and long-term effects when compared to calves raised with the dam or peers. Short-term effects of conventional raising include impaired social skills when introduced to novel peers, reduced consumption of novel feeds, increased activity in a novel environment, and signs of hunger associated with limited milk intake and poor growth during the preweaning period. Evidence also suggests that the long-term effects of conventional artificial raising systems include behavioral differences, such as lower social submissiveness, increased heart rate and cortisol when presented with a novel environment, and production differences such as milk yield and reproductive performance. However, research on the long-term effects of maternal, social, physical, and nutritional restrictions in early life is still limited and should be encouraged. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of artificial raising systems (individual, group housing, dam-raised) on future behavior, cognition, performance, and health parameters in dairy calves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-563
Number of pages15
JournalTranslational Animal Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • General Veterinary


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