Shepley, E., Lensink, J., Leruste, H. et al. 2020. The effect of free-stall versus strawyard housing and access to pasture on dairy cow locomotor activity and time budget. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 224, 104928.

Dairy housing systems can have major implications on how freely cows move within their environment and how fully they can express their behavioral repertoire, impacting overall welfare. To ensure housing systems are meeting the needs of the dairy cow, more information is needed on the best method of loose-housing for dairy cows. The objectives of this study were to 1) determine whether cows express different locomotor activity, lying behaviors, and time budgets when housed in two different housing types (strawyard - SY vs. free-stall - FS) that provide similar space and 2) measure whether similar locomotor activity and time budgets are expressed in a SY and FS under winter confinement versus under summer conditions with outdoor access. Twenty-four cows were randomly allocated into six groups (n = 4 per group), balanced for parity and DIM. Groups were subjected to the FS and SY housing treatments for one week each in a crossover design, with each treatment applied three weeks apart. The same design and procedure was repeated twice: at the end of the winter housing period and at the start of summer after a 6-week grazing period. Locomotor activity and lying data was collected by pedometers and live observation of cow behavior were carried out 2x/wk for 2 h/observation period. The findings revealed no difference in number of steps between treatments or seasons. In summer, more visits to pasture was positively correlated with a higher number of steps in both the FS (r = 0.59, p < 0.01) and SY (r = 0.59, p < 0.01). There was no difference in lying time, but SY cows had more daily lying bouts during summer than FS cows (10.7 vs 9.2 bouts, P < 0.001). Maintenance and locomotor behaviors were not affected by housing treatment, but SY cows tended to socialize more than FS cows in winter (1.7 vs 0.7 %, P = 0.06). Fewer environmental obstructions in the SY may have facilitated expression of non-maintenance behaviors as well ease of lying and rising, thus increasing lying bouts. Cows that were most active indoors accessed pasture more often, suggesting that these cows had a greater motivation to move. While SY may have benefited over FS housing regarding lying bouts and socialization during winter confinement, further research is needed to determine if these housing options are meeting all cows’ movement and activity needs.

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