Animal Science

Research Article

Indoor space allowance: effects on growth, behaviour, adrenal and immune responses of finishing beef heifers

A. D. Fishera1a2, M. A. Crowea2 p1, D. J. Prendivillea1 and W. J. Enrighta1 p2

a1 Teagasc, Grange Research Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

a2 Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, Ireland


The objective was to determine the daily live-weight gain, behaviour, adrenal and immune responses of finishing beef heifers housed at two different space allowances. Heifers (no. = 32) with a mean live weight of466 (s.e. 3·6) kg were assigned to either 1·5 or 3·0 m2 average individual space allowance in four slatted-floor pens (two per treatment) for a period of 104 days. On days 5, 40, 68 and 96, heifers (no. = eight per treatment, four per pen) were challenged with 1·98 i.u. ACTH per kg M0·75, and serial blood samples were analysed for plasma cortisol concentrations. The other 16 heifers were immunized against keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) on day 28, and blood samples collected on days 28, 42, 56, 70, 84 and 98 were analysed for anti-KLH immunoglobulin (Ig) concentrations. All heifers were blood sampled on days 0, 14, 56 and 98, and red and white blood cell numbers, packed cell volume (PCV) and plasma concentrations of creatine kinase (CK), non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) and urea were determined. Behavioural observations were conducted on days 8, 43, 71 and 99 by scan sampling for 24 h (10-min intervals), and continuous 4-h observations were conducted on days 100 and 101.

Heifers at 1·5 m2 space allowance had a lower daily live-weight gain compared with those at 3·0 m2 (0·60 v. 0·87 (s.e. 0·04) kg; P < 0·001). Heifers at 1·5 m2 had lower pre-ACTH baseline cortisol concentrations (P < 0·05) and lower post-ACTH peak cortisol concentrations (P < 0·05). There were no effects of treatment on serum anti-KLH IgG1 or IgG2 responses (P > 0·05). Heifers at 1·5 m2 had lower plasma NEFA concentrations (P < 0·05). Red and white blood cell numbers, PCV, CK and urea were not affected by treatment (P > 0·05). The time spent lying down was lower for heifers at 1·5 m2 (10·0 v. 21·1 h/day; P < 0·05). Social interactions were fewer (P < 0·05), and incidence of head-resting behaviour was higher (P < 0·05) among heifers at 1·5 m2 compared with 3·0 m2 space allowance. In conclusion, the restricted space allowance resulted in a substantial decrease in daily live-weight gain, and changes in adrenal response and behaviour.

(Received April 15 1996)

(Accepted August 12 1996)


  • beef cattle;
  • behaviour;
  • housing;
  • immune response;
  • space allowance


p1 To whom correspondence should be addressed

p2 Present address: Intervet International bv, PO Box 31, 5830 AA Boxmeer, The Netherlands