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Preference of dairy cows: indoors cubicle housing with access to a total mixed ration vs. pasture.

A study was conducted to determine the preference of dairy cows to be indoors or on pasture, and to establish the factors that influenced their decision.

Year of Publication2011

Cattle are grazing animals so it is generally assumed that pasture is a welfare friendly system as it is natural and allows the expression of normal behaviour, which may be restricted indoors. However, high yielding dairy cows may not be able to fulfil their nutritional demands from grass alone resulting in them becoming hungry, compromising their welfare. As indoor housing and pasture may both have positive and negative effects on the welfare of dairy cattle a study was conducted to determine the preference of high genetic merit Holstein dairy cows (n = 32) in mid to late lactation to be indoors or on pasture and to establish the factors that influenced their decision. Twice a day, after milking, cows were taken to a choice point equidistant (48 m) from indoor housing and pasture, where cows chose whether to go indoors or to pasture. After their initial choice, cows could then move between indoors and pasture until the next milking. Indoors, a total mixed ration (TMR) was available ad libitum. At pasture, sward dry matter (DM) was maintained between 1800 and 3000 kg DM/ha. Decision at the choice point and time spent in each location were recorded. To determine what influenced the cow's decision, behaviour, weather conditions, milk yield, lameness, body condition score (BCS) and live weight were recorded. From the choice point cows chose to go indoors almost twice as often as to pasture (66.2 ± 5.02% vs. 33.8 ± 5.02%, respectively) which was significantly different from 100% (P < 0.001), 50% (P = 0.004) and 0% (P < 0.001), and spent more time indoors compared to pasture (91.9 ± 2.33% vs. 8.1 ± 2.33%, respectively) which was significantly different from 100% (P = 0.001), 50% (P < 0.001) and 0% (P < 0.001). Milk yield affected preference (P = 0.005) with high yielding cows (>26.9 kg/day; n = 12) spending more time indoors than low yielding dairy cows (≤26.9 kg/day; n = 12), and there was a tendency for cows with a higher BCS (>2.7; n = 12) to spend more time at pasture (P = 0.058). Of the weather conditions rainfall influenced preference (P = 0.015) with cows spending more time indoors on days when it rained. Indoor and outdoor temperature–humidity index (THI), lameness and live weight had no effect on preference. The results indicate that the cows in this study had a partial preference to be indoors which is likely to be influenced by the TMR, allowing high yielding cows to meet their nutritional demands. However, this partial preference does not mean that pasture is not important for the welfare of dairy cows.

Citation

Charlton G.L.; Rutter S. M.; East M.; Sinclair, L. A. (2011) "Preference of dairy cows: indoors cubicle housing with access to a total mixed ration vs. pasture."Applied Animal Behaviour Science 130 (1-2) pp 1-9

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housingpreferenceanimal welfaredairy cow
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Supporting the development of the national rural economy.

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