By Tucker, Cassandra B. and Weary, Daniel M. and Winckler, Christoph, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2015
Freestall availability affects cattle behaviour and most studies in this area have focused on overstocking. We studied the effects of three levels of stall availability, including both over- and understocking on the time budgets and agonistic interactions in 36 dairy cattle in four stable groups. Using a switch-back design, with treatment order balanced, groups of nine cows were given access to 6, 9, and 12 stalls for 1 week each, allowing for a within-cow test of stocking density of 150, 100 and 75% (cows/stalls). After 5 days of acclimatization at each density, time budgets and displacements from stalls were measured during the last 48 h of each treatment period using continuous video recording and direct observation. When animals had access to fewer stalls, they spent less time lying down (11.6, 12.6, 12.8 h/24 h in 150, 100 and 75% treatments, respectively; SE: 0.31, 0.31, 0.28 h/24 h), particularly at night (6.6, 7.5, 7.6 h; SE: 0.20, 0.20, 0.17 h). Lying behaviour was also more synchronous when more freestalls were available (Kappa coefficient of agreement 0.00, 0.13, 0.17 for lying time in 150, 100 and 75% treatments, respectively). Cows spent more time standing in the alleyways when overstocked (between two rows of stalls: 1.8, 0.8, 0.6 h/24 h in 150, 100 and 75%, respectively; SE: 0.09, 0.09, 0.06 h/24 h; between feeder and stalls: 1.5, 1.3, 1.3 h/24 h in 150, 100 and 75%, respectively; SE: 0.13, 0.13, 0.11 h/24 h), but did not alter the time they spent feeding. Moreover, cows were more likely to displace one another from stalls at greater stocking densities (2.9, 1.1, 0.6 displacements per cow/24 h in 150, 100 and 75% treatments, respectively; SE: 0.16, 0.16, 0.11 displacements per cow/24 h). Cows that were less successful at displacing others spent a higher proportion of their time lying during the day when overstocked, indicating that lying during this time is less preferred. For all variables, the magnitude of response was most affected by overstocking; this practice reduced lying time, especially at night, synchrony of lying behaviour and increased competition for stalls. Understocking provided benefits, but the degree of behavioural change was smaller than when stalls were limited.
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