Effects of stocking density on behavior, productivity, and comfort indices of lactating dairy cows

F X Wang, D F Shao, S L Li, Y J Wang, A Azarfar, Z J Cao
Journal of Dairy Science 2016, 99 (5): 3709-3717
The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of different stocking densities of 82 (0.82 cows per freestall and feed bin), 100, and 129% on behavior, productivity, and comfort indices of lactating Holstein dairy cows. Twenty-seven lactating cows (15 primiparous and 12 multiparous) were assigned to 1 of the 3 treatments, which were balanced for parity, milk yield, days in milk, and body weight in a 3×3 Latin square design with 14-d periods. After 7 d of adaptation to the treatments, lying time and bouts were recorded at 1-min intervals for 3 d, DMI and feeding time were monitored electronically by feed bins, and rumination time was quantified at 2-h periods for 5 d during each period. The cow comfort index, stall standing index, stall perching index, and stall use index (SUI) were calculated using 10-min scan samples of video recording from d 8 to 10 of each period. Milk yield was recorded from d 8 to 12 and milk composition was determined from composite samples on d 12 in each period. Daily lying time, lying bouts, and bout duration did not differ among the stocking densities. The ratio of lying time ≥12 h/d (the number of cows with daily lying time ≥12 h/d divided by number of cows per pen) was higher for cows housed at 82% stocking density compared with those housed at 100% stocking density, with stocking density of 129% intermediate. Hourly lying time was lower at 100% stocking density compared with 82 and 129% stocking densities during the peak period (2300-0400 h), determined based on diurnal pattern of lying time. Daily dry matter intake, feeding time, and feeding rate were not affected by stocking density. After morning milking, dry matter intake and feeding time was reduced at 129 versus 82% stocking density during peak feeding time (0600-0800 h), determined based on diurnal patterns of feeding behavior. Stocking density had no effect on rumination time, milk yield and milk composition. The ratio of SUI ≥85% (mean of the number of SUI ≥85% divided by the number of SUI at 10-min scan samples during a 24-h period) was lower at 129 versus 82% stocking density, with stocking density of 100% intermediate. During peak lying time after evening milking (2300-0400 h), both cow comfort index and SUI were higher at 129 than at 100% stocking density. The SUI was lower 2h after morning milking (0800-0900 h) for cows housed at 129% compared with those housed at 82 and 100% stocking densities. In conclusion, when compared with 100% stocking density, understocking contributed to natural behaviors of cows that including lying, feeding, and rumination behavior, whereas overstocking did not cause negative effect on behavior, productivity, and comfort indices of cows in this study.

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