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Guilherme Amorim Franchi

Effects of feeding level and milking frequency on behavior of dairy cows before dry-off

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Drying-off may challenge the welfare of especially high-yielding dairy cows. In this study, 119 loose-housed Holstein cows yielding ≥20 kg milk/d were enrolled in a 2 × 2 factorial design aiming to investigate effects of changes in diet energy density and daily milking frequency on behavior. The last 7 d before the dry-off day, cows were milked either twice or once daily, and were fed either a lactation diet or the same diet diluted with 30% barley straw, both offered in individual bins for ad libitum intake. All cows were fitted with sensors to record lying time and activity, and data from 109 of these cows were used together with behavioral observations obtained from video recordings of 52 of the cows. Data from activity sensors and video recordings were obtained during 24 h on d −6, −3, and −1 relative to the dry-off day (i.e., the day of the last milking). Across all days of observation, cows milked once daily spent more time feeding (149 vs. 130 min/d) than cows milked twice daily. Cows on the reduced diet and milked twice daily had a shorter lying time compared with cows on the normal diet and milked twice (759 vs. 837 min/d), whereas lying times of cows on the remaining 2 treatments were intermediate. Among cows on the lactation diet, reduced milking frequency increased time spent perching (from 11.1 to 28.7 min/d). Cows fed the energy-reduced diet spent more time feeding (154 vs. 124 min/d), showed more attempts to feed from unassigned feed bins (31.7 vs. 15.4 attempts daily), and spent less time using a mechanical brush (6.5 vs. 9.2 min/d) than cows fed the lactation diet. These results show that several aspects of cows' behavior, including main activities such as lying and feeding, but also behaviors of low resilience such as brush use, and to some extent more subtle and complex behaviors such as perching and attempts to feed from unassigned feed bins, are sensitive to management changes typically applied during the days before dry-off. The behavioral effects of the reduced feed energy level support earlier findings suggesting that qualitative feed restriction renders cows hungry. The effects of the reduced milking frequency on behavior were generally less pronounced, but 2 noteworthy interactions between milking frequency and diet were seen. First, cows milked twice daily and fed the energy-reduced diet spent less time lying, which is possibly related to increased energy demand and hunger. Second, cows milked once daily and fed the lactation diet spent more time perching, which may be related to udder discomfort. However, these more complex findings warrant further study. Taken together, the results of this study show that a dry-off procedure involving reduced energy supply induces behavioral changes indicating a higher degree of compromised welfare compared with reduced milking frequency.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Pages (from-to)2739-2749
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

    Research areas

  • brush use, feeding, hunger, lying, perching

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