Immediately after birth on many dairy farms, baby cows are separated from their mothers and housed in their own pens to protect them from getting sick. Two months later, they join the herd.
But early-life isolation may be depriving baby cows of the opportunity to reach their full potential, found a new study. Compared to calves raised in pairs, isolated calves were much slower to learn new things and had a harder time adapting to changes in their environment.
Aside from animal welfare concerns, the new findings suggest that dairy farmers have long been overlooking the brain development of their cows by depriving them of social interaction in their early weeks.
"Imagine I said that instead of sending your child to kindergarten, I could put him in the classroom one-on-one with the teacher and all the same resources," said Daniel Weary, a professor of animal welfare and dairy science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
"But at the end of the day, if we found that individuals in this system were showing cognitive deficits in relation to other individuals, we would feel bad about that."