Effect of stocking density on social, feeding, and lying behavior of prepartum dairy animals

K M Lobeck-Luchterhand, P R B Silva, R C Chebel, M I Endres
Journal of Dairy Science 2015, 98 (1): 240-9
The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of prepartum stocking density on social, lying, and feeding behavior of dairy animals and to investigate the relationship between social rank and stocking density. In total, 756 Jersey animals were enrolled in the study approximately 4 wk before expected calving date. This study used 8 experimental units (4 replicates × 2 pens/treatment per replicate), and at each replicate, one pen each of nulliparous and parous (primiparous and multiparous) animals per treatment was enrolled. The 2 treatments were 80% stocking density (80D, 38 animals per pen; each pen with 48 headlocks and 44 stalls) and 100% stocking density (100D, 48 animals per pen). Parous animals were housed separately from nulliparous animals. Animals at 254±3d of gestation were balanced for parity (parous vs. nulliparous) and projected 305-d mature-equivalent milk yield (only parous animals) and randomly assigned to either 80D or 100D. Displacements from the feed bunk were measured for 3h after fresh feed delivery on d 2, 5, and 7 of each week. Feeding behavior was measured for 24-h periods (using 10-min video scan sampling) on d 2, 5, and 7 on wk 1 of every replicate and d 2 and 5 for the following 4 wk. A displacement index (proportion of successful displacements from the feed bunk relative to all displacements the animal was involved in) was calculated for each animal and used to categorize animals into ranking categories of high, middle, and low. Seventy nulliparous and 64 parous focal animals in the 80D treatment and 89 nulliparous and 74 parous focal animals in the 100D were used to describe lying behavior (measured with data loggers). Animals housed at 80D had fewer daily displacements from the feed bunk than those housed at 100D (15.2±1.0 vs. 21.3±1.0 per day). Daily feeding times differed between nulliparous and parous animals at the 2 stocking densities. Nulliparous 80D animals spent 12.4±5.0 fewer minutes per day feeding than nulliparous 100D animals, whereas 100D parous animals tended to spend 7.6±4.5 fewer minutes per day feeding than 80D parous animals. The 2 treatments were not different in the number of lying bouts or lying-bout duration; lying time was longer for 100D on d -33, -29, and -26 and shorter on d -7, -5, and 0 than 80D. The interaction between treatment, parity, and social rank was associated with lying and feeding times. In summary, animals in the 80D treatment had a lower number of displacements from the feed bunk and spent more time lying down near parturition than 100D animals, and 80D nulliparous animals had reduced daily feeding time compared with 100D nulliparous animals. Although these results showed some potential behavior benefits of a prepartum stocking density of 80% compared with 100%, observed changes were small. However, greater stocking density cannot be recommended; more research is needed to evaluate the effects of stocking densities greater than 100% and with other breeds of cattle besides Jersey.

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