Effect of grouping on behaviour of dairy heifers and cows in the transition period

Maria Soonberg*, Marko Kass, Tanel Kaart, Rosemary Barraclough, MJ Haskell, David Arney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Regrouping dairy cows is a common feature of dairy farm management. Cows are grouped based on lactation stage, age, milk yield and other factors. Regrouping cows during the dry period (from far-off area to close up area and from close up area to the main herd) brings new challenges. This is especially true for heifers who, after being confirmed gravid, may be grouped into a new pen with dried off cows. The aims of this study were to determine how grouping affects activity, nearest neighbour relationships and aggression, and how heifers’ acclimatization to a new group differs from cows. Therefore, the hypotheses were that regrouping cows has less of an effect on older cows compared to heifers, and cows' individuality affects acclimatization to a new group. Aggression data were recorded using a video camera that was directed at the feed bunk, and activity was recorded with activity monitors that were attached around the right hind leg. Synchrony and distance to nearest neighbour were recorded, as was the cows' location on the first 3 d from the day they returned to the main herd. Motion index, mean number of steps and number of lying bouts were significantly higher after calving compared to the week before calving and the difference was higher amongst heifers compared to cows (P < 0.001). Both cows and heifers lay down more in the strawyard compared to cubicle housing (P < 0.01) and cows were more aggressive than heifers in both housing systems (P < 0.001 and P < 0.05, respectively). As hypothesized, heifers were more affected by regrouping and cows with more experience settled quicker to their new environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalJournal of Dairy Research
Early online date24 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 24 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Antagonistic behaviour
  • cow
  • grouping
  • heifer
  • transition period

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