The motivation-based calving facility: Social and cognitive factors influence isolation seeking behaviour of Holstein dairy cows at calving

Maria Vilain Rørvang, Mette S. Herskin, Margit Bak Jensen - PLoS One

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

The ideas presented here may be useful for management changes to calving cows, after additional studies have been carried out.

What is the problem?

A common recommendation for dairy cows is to isolate them at the time of calving, to improve animal welfare. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark investigated the option of letting the individual cow seek isolation prior to calving, as moving cows to isolation pens pre-calving can be a challenge and may lead to disturbance of the cows rather than easing the process of calving.

What did the research involve?

At the universities’ Cattle Research facility, sixty-six Holstein cows were housed in groups of six in a group pen. Each pen had access to six individual calving pens connected to a group area. Two isolation opportunities were available;

  1. Individual calving pens with functional closing gates (n = 35) allowing only one cow access at a time
  2. Individual calving pens with permanently open gates allowing free cow traffic between group area and individual pen (n = 31)

Cows were trained to use the pens, and exclusion criteria applied to identify cows who’s learning was suitable for the study. Behavioural data was collected and analysed, looking for  calving site, calving behaviour and social behaviour.

What were the key findings?

The functional gate group, giving access to one cow at a time, did not lead to isolation seeking. The researchers hypothesize this may be because the cows were not able to combine a learnt response with the motivation to isolate. Dominant cows were most likely to calve in an individual calving pen, while cows were less likely to calve in an individual calving pen if another cows calf was in the group area or an individual pen.

Final Comment

Although the results weren’t as expected, the researchers believe additional studies to explore the motivation for calving in isolation should be investigated.

2018 - Denmark - Maria Vilain Rørvang, Mette S. Herskin, Margit Bak Jensen - PLoS One
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