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Margit Bak Jensen

The motivation-based calving facility: Social and cognitive factors influence isolation seeking of Holstein dairy cows at calving

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To ease calving and safeguard animal welfare, cows are moved to individual calving pens when calving is due. However, cows may be moved too late and disturbed, which prolongs calving and challenges welfare. Development of calving systems based on dairy cows’ pre-calving motivation to seek isolation may facilitate the use of individual calving pens. This study examined whether such system, facilitates the use of individual calving pens. Danish Holstein cows (n=66) were housed in groups of six in a 9m x 9m area connected to six individual and secluded calving pens (4.5m x 3m). Cows were trained to use one of two isolation opportunities i.e. individual calving pens with functional gates (n=34) allowing only one cow access at a time, or pens with permanently open gates allowing free cow traffic (n=32). Response variables were location of calving, social and calving behaviour. Factors influencing the use of the isolation opportunities were identified by logistic regression (R-software) and are presented as odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals. Contrary to the hypothesis, functional gates did not increase the use of individual calving pens (21 cows with open gates versus 13 cows with functional gates: OR: 51.41 [1.83-72.97]; P=0.068). Across all cows, dominant cows (determined using displacement events) had the highest odds of calving inside an individual calving pen (OR: 1.14 [1.07-1.30]; P=0.0035). If an alien calf was present during the last 8 h pre-calving, cows were less likely to calve inside an individual calving pen (OR: 0.46 [0.011-1.25]; P=0.069). Cows that had their first rhythmical contractions in an individual calving pen had higher odds of calving in the pen (OR 54.05 [2.89 - 162.82]; P= 0.036). Taken together, functional gates did not facilitate isolation seeking and the cows may have perceived the mechanical gate as an obstacle rather than an advantage when choosing calving site. It is possible that the cows were not able to combine the learnt response with the innate motivation. Social factors had a strong influence on seeking isolation. In order to develop a successful motivation-based calving system, where individual calving pens are used appropriately, future studies should focus on easing entry to individual calving pens, explore options to increase the isolation motivation and reduce competition for calving pens.
Original languageDanish
Publication year5 Sep 2017
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2017
Event7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level - Wageningen, Netherlands
Duration: 5 Sep 20178 Sep 2017


Conference7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level
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