Dairy Cows Value Access to Pasture as Highly as Fresh Feed

Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, Andressa Amorim Cestari, Becca Franks, Jose A. Fregonesi & Daniel M.Weary - Scientific Reports

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This paper gives some food for thought on dairy cow welfare, and is a good starting place for some further investigations.

What is the problem?

Year round indoor housing for dairy cows cows is becoming increasingly common in the developed world. This housing is designed to meet biological needs for food, water, hygiene and shelter, but concerns about welfare and dairy cow happiness have been raised within these systems. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Universidade Estadual de Londrina investigated the efforts dairy cows will go to to access fresh pastures.

What did the research involve?

Using 22 pregnant, late lactation Holstein cows, two phases were used. Cows were milked twice daily at approximately 0630 and 1700h.

Phase 1 – two indoor pens fitted with lying stalls, a designated feeding area and fresh drinking water. Cows were offered fresh feed in the form of a total mixed ration (TMR) ad libitum, delivered daily at approximately 6.30 am and 4 pm.

Phase 2 –  one indoor pen, adjacent to pasture. Cows had the same feed offered as in phase 1.

For each phase, cows were trained to twice daily to open a push-gate placed between two adjacent pens (one without feed) and the other with feed or pasture. To obtain access, cows had to open the push gates. Cows were allowed to access the gate starting 1.5 h after each milking. An additional 7 kg of weight was added daily to the initial 7 kg training weight until cows did not perform the task for two consecutive sessions. Cows were given 2.5 h to complete the task. The maximum weight pushed for access to the feed or pasture was recorded for each individual cow and the behaviors were recorded.

What were the key findings?

Cows were equally motivated to access fresh feed and pasture, with more effort being placed into accessing pasture in the evening.

Final Comment

This research goes some way showing that cows are highly motivated to access fresh pasture, which aligns with consumer concern over welfare issues with indoor housing.

2017 - Brazil - Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, Andressa Amorim Cestari, Becca Franks, Jose A. Fregonesi & Daniel M.Weary - Scientific Reports
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