Dairy cow feeding space requirements assessed in a Y-maze choice test

FC Rioja-Lang, DJ Roberts, SD Healy, AB Lawrence, MJ Haskell

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20 Citations (Scopus)


The effect of proximity to a dominant cow on a lowranking cow’s willingness to feed was assessed using choice tests. The main aim of the experiment was to determine the feeding space allowance at which the majority of subordinate cows would choose to feed on high-palatability food (HPF) next to a dominant cow rather than feeding alone on low-palatability food (LPF). Thirty Holstein-Friesian cows were used in the study. Half of the cows were trained to make an association between a black bin and HPF and a white bin and LPF, and the other half were trained with the opposite combination. Observations of pair-wise aggressive interactions were observed during feeding to determine the relative social status of each cow. From this, dominant and subordinate cows were allocated to experimental pairs. When cows had achieved an HPF preference with an 80% success rate in training, they were presented with choices using a Y-maze test apparatus, in which cows were offered choices between feeding on HPF with a dominant cow and feeding on LPF alone. Four different space allowances were tested at the HPF feeder: 0.3, 0.45, 0.6, and 0.75 m. At the 2 smaller space allowances, cows preferred to feed alone (choices between feeding alone or not for 0.3- and 0.45-m tests were significantly different). For the 2 larger space allowances, cows had no significant preferences (number of choices for feeding alone or with a dominant). Given that low-status cows are willing to sacrifice food quality to avoid close contact with a dominant animal, we suggest that the feeding space allowance should be at least 0.6 m per cow whenever possible. However, even when space allowances are large, it is clear that some subordinate cows will still prefer to avoid proximity to dominant individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3954 - 3960
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number7
Publication statusFirst published - 2012

Bibliographical note



  • Choice
  • Feeding behaviour
  • Y-maze
  • dominance


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