Feed stalls affect the social and feeding behavior of lactating dairy cows

T J DeVries, M A G von Keyserlingk
Journal of Dairy Science 2006, 89 (9): 3522-31
The first objective of this study was to study the effects of increased bunk space on the frequency of aggressive behavior at the feed bunk and on feed access. The second objective was to determine whether the addition of partitions (feed stalls) between adjacent cows would provide additional protection while feeding, particularly for subordinate cows. Twenty-four lactating Holstein cows were subjected to each of 3 treatments in 3 successive 10-d treatment periods using a 3 x 3 Latin square design. The treatments tested were: 1) 0.64 m of feed bunk space/cow, 2) 0.92 m of feed bunk space/cow, and 3) feed stalls (0.87 m of feed bunk space/cow with feed stall partitions separating adjacent cows). Time-lapse video was used to quantify the feeding and standing behavior, as well as the aggressive behavior (displacements) displayed by the cows at the feed bunk. To meet our first and second objectives, we compared data from the 0.64 m/cow treatment with that from the 0.92 m/cow treatment, and data from the 0.92 m/cow treatment with that from the feed-stall treatment, respectively. Total daily feeding time increased when feed bunk space was increased from 0.64 to 0.92 m/cow. Further, the time spent standing in the feeding area while not feeding and the frequency of aggressive interactions at the feed bunk decreased when more bunk space was provided. The addition of feed stalls resulted in more pronounced effects compared with when cows had 0.92 m/cow of bunk space. The feed stalls also forced cows to change the strategy by which they displaced others from the feed bunk, forcing them to also initiate contact at the rear of the animal they were displacing rather than only from the front and side, as in the other 2 treatments. Further, when the cows were provided with additional feeding space, particularly when combined with feed stalls, those cows with lower social status at the feed bunk experienced the greatest decreases in the number of times they were displaced per day. The results indicated that providing increased feed bunk space, particularly when combined with feed stalls, will improve access to the feed and reduce competition at the feed bunk, particularly for subordinate cows.

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