von Keyserlingk, M. A. G., Amorim Cestari, A., Franks, B. 2017. Dairy cows value access to pasture as highly as fresh feed. Scientific Reports 7, 44953.
Many dairy cows in the developed world are now housed exclusively indoors with fewer than 5% of the 10 million lactating cows in the United States having access to pasture during the grazing season. Indoor housing systems are designed to meet biological needs for food, water, hygiene, and shelter, but surveys of public and farmer opinion suggest that people think that pasture access is also important for the well-being of dairy cows. To determine if pasture access is important to the cows themselves, we investigated to what extent cows will work to access pasture (by pushing on a weighted gate), and compared it to the motivation to access fresh feed. Cows worked at least as hard to access pasture as they did to access the fresh feed and worked hardest for outdoor access in the evening hours. Echoing public views on what allows for a good life for cattle, these results show that cows are highly motivated for outdoor access.