Traditional substrate types for dairy calves, such as sawdust, are becoming difficult and/or expensive for farmers to obtain in New Zealand. Therefore, there is a need to evaluate alternative rearing substrates that provide an acceptable level of animal welfare. The preference of dairy calves for four different rearing substrates was evaluated (traditional and novel). At 1 wk of age, 24 calves were housed in groups of four, in pens which were evenly divided into four rearing substrates: sawdust, rubber, sand and stones. During the first 3 d calves were given free access to all four substrates. Calves were then restricted to each substrate type for 48 h. In order to rank preference, calves were subsequently exposed to two surfaces simultaneously in a pairwise manner for 48 h until all animals had experienced all six treatment combinations. Finally, calves were again given free access to all four substrates simultaneously for 48 h. Lying behaviour and location in the pen was recorded for the final 24 h during the free-choice and pairwise periods using video recorders and accelerometers. During the restriction period, lying behaviour was recorded for the final 24 h using accelerometers and play behaviour was recorded over 12 h using video recorders. Calves were blood sampled during the restriction period to measure cortisol, glucose and lactate concentrations, and white blood cell numbers.
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