Providing continuously-housed dairy cows with a loafing area may allow them space to express behaviours that are affected by the housing environment. The aim of this study was to investigate whether dairy cows had a preference for loafing area type and if loafing area type affected behaviour performed within it. Three groups of 12 and one group of 11 lactating cows (n = 47) were housed in a cubicle shed with two nearby loafing areas 1) a concrete-floored roofed area and 2) a grassed paddock fenced to the same size as the concrete area. After 3d baseline period without access, cows were trained to access the loafing areas over 2 days. A 5d preference test followed, where cows had free access to the cubicle shed and both loafing areas from 08:45 until 12:45 and 15:30–18:30. Behaviour was observed via live observations (scan sampling) in the mornings and afternoons and activity sensors (IceTags) continuously recorded lying bouts 24 h/d until the end of the experiment. Results of the live observations showed that the cows were in the paddock area for more of the scans than the concrete area (P < 0.01). Descriptive statistics showed cows behaving differently in the two areas, lying down more when in the paddock area and standing more when in the concrete area (lying behaviour: paddock area = 69%; concrete area = 0%). Active behaviours (loafing behaviours) such as social interactions were recorded in both loafing areas (active standing behaviour: paddock area = 8%; concrete area = 23%). The weather and ground conditions affected behaviour. In dry conditions, cows lay down in the paddock area. When the ground was saturated, the cows lay down in the cubicle shed. There was no statistical evidence of overall differences in behaviours (P = 0.35) recorded during the baseline and preference testing periods. However, based on sensor data, cows had longer lying bouts over 24 h on the days when they had access to the loafing areas compared to the days when they did not (P = 0.028). This suggests that cows prefer paddock loafing areas to concrete areas when lying opportunities are presented, but proportionately, more active standing or ‘loafing’ behaviours are performed in the concrete area.
- Dairy cow
- Welfare, continuous housing, loafing area