Dairy cows fed a low energy diet before dry-off show signs of hunger despite ad libitum access

Guilherme Amorim Franchi, Mette S Herskin, Margit Bak Jensen
Scientific Reports 2019 November 6, 9 (1): 16159
Drying-off is one important management step in commercial dairy farms and consists of ceasing milk production artificially at a specific point in time, generally 2 months before the next calving. Drying-off typically comprises dietary changes as well as gradual or abrupt changes in daily milking frequency, which may challenge the welfare of high-yielding cows. This study investigated the isolated and combined effects of different feed energy densities (normal lactation diet versus energy-reduced diet, both offered ad libitum) and daily milking frequencies (twice versus once) on the feeding motivation of dairy cows on two separate days prior to dry-off (i.e. the day of last milking) using a push-gate feeder. During both days, cows on the energy-reduced diet pushed more than five times more weight to earn the final feed reward and were nearly ten times faster to feed on the first reward than cows on the normal lactation diet. Illustrating the importance of developing more animal welfare-friendly dry-off management, these results illustrate that cows show signs of hunger prior to dry-off when provided a diet with reduced energy density, although offered for ad libitum intake.

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