Normally, calves are raised in single pens until weaning. However, housing milk-fed calves in pairs have been increasing in popularity. This is mainly due to availability of automatic feedings and the potential of reducing labour requirements per head.
Benefits of socially housed calves
Group housing allows calves to be more social as well as providing more usable space.
Another benefit of raising milk fed calves in group is the increased solid feed intake before weaning.
This advantage is especially clear when calves are fed higher volumes of milk.
Feeding calves with more milk has benefits such as higher growth, less incidence of disease and higher milk production.
Feeding calves milk via teat will help satisfy calf's motivation to suck.
Feeding higher amounts of milk will increase weight gain for the calves before weaning, especially when milk rations are gradually reduced over the course of two weeks or more to motivate calves to eat solid food.
A successful weaning program requires the calves to begin consume solid feed early in life so that they reach appropriate levels of solid feed intake when milk is reduced around weaning.
When young calves are housed individually, they do not have the opportunity to learn how and what to eat from other animals.
Group calves can take advantage of "social learning" to more quickly discover and make use of solid feed.
Studies have also shown that pair-housed calves have reduced behavioral responses to weaning and improved performance when mixed with a larger group after weaning.
Housing young calves with an older, weaned companion will further stimulate feeding behavior and growth before and after weaning.
When to pair-house calves?
Studies have done in order to determine when is best to pair-house calves.
It has been shown that individually housed calves will take longer time to learn how to eat and have lower solid feed intakes at the time of weaning.
Calves that were paired at birth ate more compared to individually reared and late-paired calf.
Results show no difference in intake and weight gains when calves were paired at birth or 3 weeks old.
Hence, results indicate that calves should be grouped early, within the first 3 weeks of life in order to gain maximum benefits of pair-house calves.
How to manage grouped calves?
Ideal number shows that groups of less than 8 calves are easiest to manage successfully.
It is recommended for producers to try grouping a pair for a start and use animals that are most similar in age.
From there, you can increase the number of calves but not more than 8 calves per group is recommended.