The provision of palatable drinking water ad libitum for cattle is often neglected on farm and is considered difficult and imprac-tical to monitor, particularly on an individual animal basis. The objective of this study was to validate an automated system for monitoring individual water intake and drinking behaviour of dairy calves. Nineteen dairy calves were observed over five days for eight hours/day. Calves were individually identified as they visited a water trough within a narrow chute where the number and duration of visits were recorded using an overhead photoelectric sensor, and water intake was recorded using a flow meter. Data from the automated system were compared to behavioural observations from video recordings across the same time period. The automated system was highly correlated with behavioural observations for both the number of visits (R2=0.96, P<0.001) and visit durations (R2=0.94, P<0.001), but showed no correlation for water intake (R2=0.01, P>0.1). This system could be used as a reliable automated method for recording drinking behaviour in terms of the number and duration of visits. However, alternative systems for measuring water intake need to be investigated and incorporated into the automated system. This information could be used to investigate a number of questions regarding water use and quality, and their effects on calf health and welfare and could be integrated into other automated systems used on farm for daily animal monitoring.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 77, Rotorua, 133-136, 2017
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