Play behaviour of dairy and beef calves living in a semi-natural environment.
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The aim of this study was to examine the quantity, space requirements and types of play behaviour of calves living 24/7 on pasture. Observations were made on a daily basis, for 30 days, approx. 5.5 h a day, in 2 different herds. Herd A consisted of 23 beef calves (age 1-2 mo) living together with 80 female adult cows on 70 ha of grassland. Herd B consisted of 18 dairy calves (2 mo of age), living without dams on a 1 ha pasture. In total, 625 elements of locomotor play and 138 of social play were seen. The average number of calves playing was 1.44, the avg. group size (incl. non-playing calves) was 3.79. Running was observed the most often (458 times), followed by head butting (100 times), bucking (81), body butting (76), jumps (64), turns (48) and lastly mounts (17). Jumps had a mean height of 1.26 times withers height, bucks 0.57 and mounts 1.39. The mean running distance was 13.5 m; play fighting required an avg. of 3.50 m2. A high percentage of play involved multiple calves playing together (33.9%). Due to various differences between the two herds, a valid comparison could not be made; however, the impression was that the presence of the dam has a negative effect on the prevalence of play. To be able to perform 75% of the observed play behaviour, calves need more space than they are usually provided in intensive husbandry.