Short-term increases in stocking density affect the lying and social behavior, but not the productivity, of lactating Holstein dairy cows

P D Krawczel, L B Klaiber, R E Butzler, L M Klaiber, H M Dann, C S Mooney, R J Grant
Journal of Dairy Science 2012, 95 (8): 4298-308
Reduced access to resources because of increased stocking density may have a detrimental effect on the behavior of the lactating dairy cow. The objective of this study was to determine the short-term responses in behavior, productivity, fecal cortisol metabolites, and udder and leg hygiene of lactating Holstein dairy cows housed at stocking densities of 100 (1 cow per freestall and headlock), 113, 131, and 142%. Multiparous cows (n=92) and primiparous cows (n=44) were assigned to 1 of 4 pens (34 cows per pen) in a 4-row freestall barn. Pens were balanced for parity, milk production, and days in milk. Stocking densities were imposed for 14 d using a 4 × 4 Latin square design. Time spent feeding and time spent ruminating were quantified by 24 h of direct observation of focal cows (n=12 per pen) beginning at 0800 h on d 11 of each period. Data loggers recorded lying behavior (time and bouts) from the same focal cows per pen at 1-min intervals during the final 5 d of each period. Fecal cortisol metabolites were quantified from samples collected on d 13 and 14 of each period from the same focal cows. Displacements from the feed barrier were recorded on a pen basis after 9 milkings over the last 4 d of each period. Productivity was assessed on a pen basis from milk yield (recorded from d 10 to 14 of each period) and milk components (quantified from composite samples collected on d 12 of each period). Milk composition was further analyzed for milk fatty acid profiles, which were determined from a subset (n=6 per pen) of the focal cows. Data were analyzed using the MIXED procedure of SAS, with the pen (n=4 per treatment, except displacements where n=3 per treatment) as the experimental unit. Feeding and ruminating (h/d) did not differ among treatments. Lying time was reduced at stocking densities of 131 and 142%, relative to 100 or 113%. Lying bouts were not affected by treatment. Stocking densities of 131 and 142% reduced the percentage of time cows spent ruminating within a freestall relative to 100%. Displacements from the feed bunk increased linearly across treatments. Fecal cortisol metabolites, udder hygiene score, milk yields, milk composition, and milk fatty acids did not differ among treatments. Decreased lying time and increased aggression at the feed bunk suggest that an alteration of the time budgets of lactating dairy cows may occur at higher stocking densities, but it is unclear at what point these changes might have further biological consequences.

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