Student research: Exploring an environment of entertainment for calves

Does an environment of entertainment improve the welfare of young calves better than an environment without? That’s the question Cistercian College Roscrea students Adam J. Stanley and Joshua Powell recently asked themselves.

Project Background

Having come across the EASYFIX range of pig enrichment toys at the 2018 National Ploughing Championships, Adam wondered if the same idea of enrichment could benefit calves also. UL’s recent SciFest provided the perfect opportunity to explore the theory of an environment of enrichment for calves, and saw Adam and Josh team up with EASYFIX to put our Astro and Luna pig enrichment products to the test in a calf rearing environment.

The calves were divided into four pens across two farms, each with similar surroundings, with one pen on either farm equipped with EASYFIX Astra and Luna pig enrichment toys. All four pens across the two yards were closely monitored on a daily basis for the three week duration of the project.

The Findings

Upon the project’s conclusion, Adam and Josh sat down to review the results. There were two main aspects which they wanted to determine:

  1. Had the toys made a difference to the calves’ appetite?
  2. Would the toys add enrichment to the calves?

After putting the calves through a Body Condition Score the boys found that unfortunately the toys had not made a difference to the stock’s appetite, but did notice that the calves that interacted with the toys tended not to suck on the navels, ears and mouths of other calves after feeding. This finding would suggest that a similar approach could lead to a reduction in the sucking of other calves udders after feeding, thus reducing the risk of mastitis.

Adam and Josh also noticed that the addition of the EASYFIX pig toys to two of the pens afforded the calves greater stimulation throughout the day. Notably, the calves much preferred the ceiling-suspended Astro toys over the ground-based Luna toys. Potentially, this may be because the act of playing with the suspended Astro toys mimics a similar motion to feeding from their mothers’ udders.

We’d like to thank Adam and Josh for choosing EASYFIX products to carry out their research and wish them all the best in their future studies!