Lying behavior: assessing within- and between-herd variation in free-stall-housed dairy cows

K Ito, D M Weary, M A G von Keyserlingk
Journal of Dairy Science 2009, 92 (9): 4412-20
One of the most important design criteria for dairy cow housing is access to a comfortable lying area. Behaviors such as the time cows spend lying down and how often they lie down can be used to evaluate the quality of stalls; however, assessing lying behavior on farms can be challenging. Indices such as the cow comfort index (CCI) and stall use index (SUI) have been widely used in on-farm assessments. The aims were to establish reliable sampling and recording methods for measuring lying behavior, to evaluate the adequacy of the CCI and SUI as estimates of lying behavior, and to describe variation in the lying behaviors of free-stall-housed dairy cows. The time spent lying down and the number of lying bouts for 2,033 cows on 43 farms were recorded for 5 d using electronic data loggers sampling at 1-min intervals. The CCI and SUI were calculated based on a single observation taken 2 h before the afternoon milking on each farm. Subsets of data were created, including 4, 3, 2, or 1 d per cow and 40, 30, 20, 10, 5, or 1 cow(s) per farm. The estimates derived from each sample size were compared with the overall means (based on 5 d and 44 cows per farm) for lying time and number of lying bouts, and the CCI and SUI were compared with the farm means of lying time, number of lying bouts, and bout duration using linear regression. Recording 30 or more cows for 3 d or more represented the overall means with high accuracy (R(2) > 0.9), but using fewer cows or fewer days per cow resulted in poorer estimates of the farm mean. The CCI and SUI showed no association with the daily lying time (h/d; R(2) < 0.01), and CCI was only weakly associated with the number of lying bouts per day (R(2) = 0.16) and bout duration (min/bout; R(2) = 0.09). Cows lay down 11.0 +/- 2.1 h/d in 9 +/- 3 bouts/d, with a bout duration of 88 +/- 30 min/bout. These values ranged from 9.5 to 12.9 h/d, 7 to 10 bouts/d, and 65 to 112 min/bout across farm means, and 4.2 to 19.5 h/d, 1 to 28 bouts/d, and 22 to 342 min/bout across individuals, showing that variation in lying behavior among individual cows within farm was greater than differences among farms.

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