Effects of stocking density during the dry period on dairy cow physiology, metabolism and behaviour

Mayumi Fujiwara, Marie Haskell, Alastair Macrae, Kenny Rutherford
Journal of Dairy Research 2019 August 5, : 1-8
The effects of high stocking density during the dry period on dairy cow physiology, behaviour and welfare were investigated. Holstein Friesian cows (n = 48, calving over a seven month period) were dried-off 60 ± 4 d before their expected calving date, and allocated to either high (H) or low (L) stocking density groups. Cows were housed in cubicles from dry-off to 21 d before calving and then moved to straw yards until calving. In cubicle pens, H and L cows had 0.5 vs. 1.0 feed yokes/cow and 1.0 vs. 1.5 cubicles/cow, respectively, and in straw yards, 0.3 m vs. 0.6 m linear feed-face space and 6 m2 vs. 12 m2 lying space, respectively. Video observations of feeding behaviour during the 3 h after feed delivery (3 d/week) and agonistic interactions at the feed-face during peak feeding (2 d/week) were made. Daily lying proportion was measured using an accelerometer device throughout the dry period. Concentrations of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGCM) at dry-off, d7 and d35 after dry-off and d21 and d7 before calving and the change in energy metabolites (glucose, NEFA, BHB) from dry-off to d7 before calving were measured. H cows were less likely to start feeding within 5 min of feed delivery and spent less time feeding compared to L cows, but they engaged in displacements more frequently and spent more time standing in the feed alley. Irrespective of the treatment groups, FGCM concentrations significantly increased from dry-off to d7 after dry-off and remained higher during the dry period. Stocking density did not affect daily lying proportion, energy metabolites during the dry period and milk yield during subsequent lactation. This study found that whilst high stocking density during the dry period increased competition at the feed-face and altered feeding behaviour, it did not affect stress responses, energy metabolism or subsequent milk yield.

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