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Use of a feed thwarting test to assess hunger in dairy cows during drying-off

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The dry period (DP) is an important stage of the production cycle of dairy cows as it allows for treatment of intramammary infections and renewal of udder cells before the next calving. The DP comprises management changes with likely negative effects, such as sudden cessation of milking and provision of nutrient-reduced diet impairing energy balance even when fed for ad libitum intake. This ongoing work proposes a behavioural test, ‘feed thwarting test’, to assess separate and interactive effects of two milking strategies (gradual or abrupt cessation of milking) and two different feeding strategies (lactation diet or energy-reduced lactation diet with forage-to-concentrate ratios of 51:49 and 65:35, respectively, ad libitum) on the degree of hunger. Healthy loose-housed Holstein cows with a milk yield of at least 15 kg/d are randomly distributed to four treatments (milking frequency x feeding level) 7 days before the last milking (dry-off day when they start being fed a ration whose forage-to-concentrate ratio is 92:08, ad libitum). Thwarting tests are conducted on days -5 and 2 relative to the dry-off day between the two morning feedings at 0700h and 1100h. The test is conducted in a test pen next to the cows’ home pen permitting visual contact to peers. The first test day comprises of two phases, a familiarization and a testing phase. Initially, the experimental cow is offered a small portion of concentrate in an open plastic box and its task is to approach the box and eat the concentrate. In the second phase, the cow returns to the testing pen where it finds two similar plastic boxes, the same familiar box with a small portion of concentrate and an equally sized box closed with a wired-mesh lid, and full of concentrate, that can only be seen and smelled, but not reached and eaten. From the moment the cow sniffs or touches one of the boxes, its subsequent behaviours are registered for 5 minutes. On the second experimental day, only testing is conducted. Latency to approach the boxes, attempt to access the concentrate in the wired-mesh box and bites, pushes, licks and vocalizations are recorded. We expect that cows on a nutrient-reduced diet and twice-daily milking, related to a greater energy demand, will express the highest level of these behaviours during the test. The behavioural responses are interpreted as signs of hunger and possibly frustration due to not being able to access the feed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year28 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2018
EventUFAW Animal Welfare Conference: Recent advances in animal welfare science VI - Centre for Life, Newcastle, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Jun 201828 Jun 2018


ConferenceUFAW Animal Welfare Conference
LocationCentre for Life
CountryUnited Kingdom

    Research areas

  • Hunger, Dry off, Dairy cows, Thwarting test

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