Eliminative behaviour of dairy cows at pasture.

The eliminative behaviour of 40 Holstein-Friesian cows was observed at pasture.

Year of Publication2011

Despite a strong avoidance of grazing near dung patches, cattle have traditionally been considered not to avoid bodily contact with faeces, regardless of any risk of disease. Little is understood of the behaviour of pasture-kept dairy cows at the time of defaecation and therefore, the eliminative behaviour of 40 Holstein-Friesian cows was observed at pasture for 6 h each day between morning and afternoon milking for a total of 24 h. Lying (l), standing (s) and walking (w) behaviours were recorded pre, during and post-elimination. Sequences of 3–6 changes in these behaviours were recorded if expressed within 30 s of an eliminative event. Intentional, incidental or no avoidance of faeces was also recorded for each event. Activity, characterised as static (lying, grazing or loafing), or active (moving to a different area of field, going to drink and catching up with herd) was also recorded. Of the 437 events recorded, cows rose from lying to defaecate a total of 215 times. Thirty-two different defaecation sequences were observed and cows stood to defaecate and then moved forward in 18 of these sequences. The most frequently expressed were sSws and wSws and lSw and lSws which included half of all observed events (uppercase letters denote behaviour during defaecation). In all recorded events, 383 stood and 54 walked whilst defaecating (P < 0.001). Activity indicated that cows most often stood to defaecate when performing static activities, such as loafing or grazing, before and after defaecating (P < 0.001) but not when they were active before and after eliminating (P = 0.72). Walking whilst defaecating was most likely to occur when cows were simultaneously engaged in an ‘active’ state, such as going to drink or catching up with the herd. Overall, standing to defaecate and moving forward was the predominant behaviour pattern of dairy cows at pasture, regardless of activity. Avoidance of bodily contamination with fresh faeces was shown at all observed eliminative events.


Whistance, L.; Sinclair, L. A. 0000-0002-8543-0063; Arney, D.; Phillips, C. J. C (2011) "Eliminative behaviour of dairy cows at pasture."Applied Animal Behaviour Science 130 (3) pp 73-80

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Additional keywords/tags

dairy coweliminative behaviourfaeces avoidancegrazing
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