Stocking density and feed barrier design affect the feeding and social behavior of dairy cattle

J M Huzzey, T J DeVries, P Valois, M A G von Keyserlingk
Journal of Dairy Science 2006, 89 (1): 126-33
The objectives of this study were to: 1) evaluate how stocking density at the feed bunk affects feeding and social behavior of dairy cows; and 2) determine if this effect is further influenced by the type of feed barrier used. Thirty-six lactating Holstein cows, allotted to 4 groups, were subjected to each of 4 stocking density treatments and 2 feed barrier treatments. Initially, 2 groups were assigned to a headlock barrier, and 2 groups to a post-and-rail barrier. Each group was then exposed to 4 stocking density treatments (0.81, 0.61, 0.41, and 0.21 m/cow, corresponding to 1.33, 1.00, 0.67, and 0.33 headlocks/cow), in 4 successive 10-d treatment periods. After these periods, the feed barriers were switched between groups and the 4 stocking density treatments were readministered. Time-lapse video was used to quantify feeding, standing, and aggressive behavior at the feed bunk. Daily feeding times were greater and duration of inactive standing in the feeding area was less when using a post-and-rail compared with a headlock feed barrier. Feeding time decreased and inactive standing increased for both barrier designs as stocking density increased at the feed bunk. Cows were displaced more often from the feeding area when the stocking density was increased, and this effect was greater for cows using the post-and-rail feed barrier. Cows ranked lower in the social hierarchy at the feed bunk were displaced more often when feeding at a post-and-rail barrier, particularly at high stocking densities. Therefore, we recommend avoiding overstocking at the feed bunk to increase feeding activity and reduce competition. Use of a barrier that provides some physical separation between adjacent cows, such as a headlock feed barrier, can be used to further reduce competition at the feed bunk.

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