The effect of distance to pasture on dairy cow preference to be indoors or at pasture.

This study investigated whether distance to pasture from the indoor housing would affect dairy cow preference to be at pasture.

Year of Publication2011

Several factors influence whether dairy cattle prefer to be indoors or at pasture, including weather conditions and milk yield, but it is unclear how the distance between the two locations influences preference. This study investigated whether pasture access of 60m, 140m or 260m from the indoor housing would affect dairy cow preference to be at pasture. Twenty four Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were used during the study, which took place in the UK from May to July 2010. There were four 18 day experimental periods, with eight cows in each period., which were further divided into two groups of four cows. Following a training period the cows were randomly allocated to walk 60m, 140m or 260m to pasture over three four day measurement periods. A video camera was used to record periods spent indoors and outdoors 24 h day and behaviour observations (07:00 h to 22:00 h) took place 6 times during each period to record how the cows spent their time in each location. The video data showed that cows spent, on average, 57.8% (±3.44) of the time outside (either at pasture or on the track). One sample t-tests revealed this was different to 0% (t=16.80; P<0.001), 50% (t=2.26; P=0.031) and 100% (t=12.28; P=<0.001) ANOVA of the percentage time spent outside revealed that distance did not influence night time pasture use (21:00h to 04:30h) (F2,8=0.16, P=0.851; 81.0% vs 81.0% vs 76.7%, for 60 m vs 140 m vs 260 m, respectively). In contrast, during the day (07:00h to 21:00h; from behaviour observations) the cows spent more time at pasture when they had to walk 60m (F2,80=10.09, P<0.001) than when they had to walk 140 m or 260 m (45.3% vs 27.4% vs, 21.2%, respectively). Neither the indoor temperature humidity index (THI) (62.1 ± 0.62; R2=0.0067, P=0.557) or the outdoor THI (59.6± 0.64; R2=0.0087, P=0.608) influenced time spent outside. The results indicated that cows had a partial preference for pasture, which was influenced by distance to pasture during daytime, not at night. The fact cows did not reduce pasture use with increasing distance at night, but did during the day, suggests access to pasture at night is more important to them than access during the day.

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