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Margit Bak Jensen

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

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In order to improve animal welfare it is recommended that dairy farmers move calving cows from the herd to individual pens when calving is imminent. However, the practicality of moving cows has proven a challenge and may lead to disturbance of the cows rather than easing the process of calving. One solution may be to allow the cow to seek isolation prior to calving. This study examined whether pre-parturient dairy cows will isolate in an individual calving pen placed in a group calving setting and whether a closing gate in this individual calving
pen will cause more cows to isolate prior to calving. Danish Holstein cows (n = 66) were housed in groups of six in a group pen with access to six individual calving pens connected to the group area. Cows were trained to use one of two isolation opportunities i.e. individual calving pens with functional closing gates (n = 35) allowing only one cow access at a time, or individual calving pens with permanently open gates allowing free cow traffic between group area and individual pen (n = 31). The response variables were calving site, calving behaviour and social behaviour. Unexpectedly, a functional gate did not facilitate isolation seeking, perhaps because the cows were not able to combine a learnt response with the motivation to isolate. Dominant cows had the highest chance of calving in an individual calving pen. If an alien calf was present in the group pen or any of the individual pens, cows were less likely to calve in an individual calving pen. Future studies should allow cows easy access to an individual calving pen and explore what motivates pre-parturient cows to seek isolation in
order to facilitate voluntary use of individual calving pens.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0191128
JournalP L o S One
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

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