Acta Vet. Brno 2023, 92: 109-115

The effect of group housing on behaviour, growth performance, and health of dairy calves

Gabriela Malá1, Pavel Novák1, Josef Prášek2, Luboš Zábranský3

1Institute of Animal Science, Livestock Technology and Management, Prague-Uhříněves, Czech Republic
2University of Veterinary Science Brno, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Section of Large Animal Diseases, Ruminant and Swine Clinic, Brno, Czech Republic
3Univesity of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, Faculty of Agriculture, České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Received November 30, 2022
Accepted May 4, 2023

The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of the housing system on the behaviour, performance, and health of dairy calves. The two-year study was conducted on 56 Holstein bull calves (from birth to 60 days of age) that were placed in individual hutches immediately after their birth. At the age of 31 days, 28 bull calves were moved to group hutches by four. The calves were weighed at birth, at 30 days, and at 60 days of age. The starter intake and health were recorded once a day. The behavioural activities of calves (lying, standing and cross-sucking, etc.) were analysed in 24-h cycles at 38 days and 53 days of age. The results showed that group-housed calves spent less time lying and resting (P < 0.01) and more time standing (P < 0.01), receiving the starter (P < 0.05), drinking (P < 0.01), cross-sucking (P < 0.01), and social playing (P < 0.01) compared to individually housed calves. Conversely, calves from individually housing spent more time licking the housing surfaces (P < 0.05) and individual playing (P < 0.05). Bull calves housed from day 31 of age in the group hutches achieved a non-significantly higher body weight at weaning (by +3.0 kg), weight gain (by +2.8 kg), and a significantly higher (P < 0.05) starter intake (by +7.9 kg) compared to the individually housed calves. These results showed that housing in small groups allowed for the natural behaviour of calves and improved their growth without having adverse effects on their health.


This work was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture Project NAZV no. QK1910438. Thanks for the technical cooperation are due to Pavlína Jiroutová, Josef Knížek, Eliška Nejedlá, Martina Kočí a David Procházka.


47 live references