The behaviour of housed dairy cattle with and without pasture access: a review

Charlton, G.L. and Rutter, S.M. (2017) The behaviour of housed dairy cattle with and without pasture access: a review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

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With more dairy cows being housed indoors, for at least part of the year, it is important to understand how housing impacts on ‘normal behaviour’ and the implications for cow welfare. For cows on pasture, nutritional requirements and climatic conditions are the major concerns, whilst indoor housing systems can restrict natural behaviours and reduce health as incidences of lameness and mastitis increase. When given a choice to be at pasture or in cubicle housing, studies have shown that time of day, season, and where feed is provided can influence preference. Previous experience also had a big effect on pasture preference: the longer calves/heifers/cows were reared without experience of pasture the stronger their preference for housing. The ontogeny of grazing also requires pasture experience i.e. the instinctive foraging behaviour of calves is to suckle and they have to learn through experience how to graze. These results raise the question: if cattle are to be housed for part of the year, would it be better to house them continuously? Other results would suggest not, as there are clear production, health and welfare benefits to pasture access. Cows at pasture had lower levels of lameness and mastitis, and cows with free access to pasture and indoor housing also produced more milk than those continuously housed. Approximately half of this extra milk was attributed to grass intake, and increased lying, improved comfort and/or lower stress probably accounted for the rest. Although incorporating free access between housing and pasture is difficult on many farms, it is postulated that developments in precision livestock farming offer the potential to provide a technological solution to this problem. These research findings could be used as the basis to design novel, adaptive housing that responds to cow behaviour. The aim would be to incorporate the best aspects of pasture with the best aspects of housing to provide an environment that meets the needs of the cows all year around.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Pasture, Indoor housing, Dairy cattle, Behaviour, Precision livestock farming, Technologies
Divisions: Animal Production, Welfare and Veterinary Sciences
Depositing User: Ms Kath Osborn
Date Deposited: 28 May 2017 13:32
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2018 11:32

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