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Happy cattle: Bovines with buddies learn better, UBC research shows

A young calf is shown at Harcroft Dairy Farm north of Fergus, Ontario, on Oct. 24, 2013. New research at UBC suggests that calves learn better when paired up.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

If your cattle are easily rattled or your heifers seems a little half-witted, maybe they just need a bovine buddy.

New research out of the University of British Columbia found Holstein dairy calves learned better in pairs.

The first of two studies found calves that lived with another calf became familiar with and learned to ignore a red-plastic bin placed in their pen, while individual calves on their own continued to react to each exposure of the red-plastic bin as if it was a first.

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A second study found paired calves also learned to pick the correct bottle of milk when given a choice between two bottles, while the solo cows were a little slow on the uptake.

Prof. Dan Weary says he hopes farmers are moved to keep calves together during feeding times because pairing them seems to improve their learning.

He says farmers may find it more difficult to train animals for simple tasks, like walking down a path and not getting overwhelmed by a bright light or noise, if they have been housed separately.

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