Neave, H. W., Webster, J. R., Zobel, G. 2021. Anticipatory behaviour as an indicator of the welfare of dairy calves in different housing environments. PLoS ONE 16(1), e0245742.
Anticipatory behaviour occurs in the period before a reward or other positive event is presented and has been interpreted as an indicator of the welfare and emotional state of animals. The use of this indicator has received limited attention in dairy calves. Therefore, we investigated how anticipatory behaviour is affected by housing environment and reward quality, and if anticipatory behaviour changes when reward quality changes unexpectedly. Sixteen pairs of calves were assigned to treatments in a 2 x 2 factorial design (two housing environment and two reward quality combinations). Housing was either basic (2 m2/calf, river stone surface) or enriched (5 m2/calf, woodchip, and enrichment items), and the reward was access to either an additional basic or enriched pen. Calves were conditioned to anticipate reward pen access; anticipatory behaviour toward receiving the reward pen was measured. Signaling reward access increased the frequency of transitions between behaviours and duration of touching and looking at the signal and exit door. Basic-housed calves showed more anticipatory behaviour (increased frequency of transitions between behaviours) and decreased latency to access the reward compared to enriched-housed calves, but the reward pen quality had no effect on anticipatory behaviour. When the reward pen quality changed from enriched to basic unexpectedly, resulting in sudden reward loss, basic-housed calves decreased, while enriched-housed calves increased, anticipatory behaviour. However, there was no change in anticipatory behaviour during reward gain (change from basic to enriched reward pen). Our findings align with previous work showing that animals in basic housing show more anticipation for a reward, and demonstrate suppressed behavioural response when experiencing reward loss, suggesting greater sensitivity to reward. Sensitivity to reward has associations with mood state; thus, calves in basic environments may experience a more negative emotional state, and thus reduced welfare, compared to calves in enriched environments.