Does housing nulliparous dairy cows with multiparous animals prior to calving influence welfare- and production-related parameters after calving?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Alastair R. Boyle, Conrad P. Ferris, Niamh E. O’Connell
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
, , , , ,

The aim of this experiment was to determine the effects of housing nulliparous cows with non-lactating multiparous cows during the pre-calving period, on welfare and production-related parameters during the post calving period. Twenty nulliparous Holstein Friesian dairy cattle were assigned to one of two treatments (‘Mixed and Unmixed’) pre-calving. The ‘Mixed’ treatment involved housing experimental animals with non-lactating multiparous cows for three weeks prior to their expected calving date. In the ‘Unmixed’ treatment, experimental animals were housed with other nulliparous animals during the 3-wk period prior to their expected calving date. During this pre-calving period animals in both treatments were housed in groups of 10 animals, with the ‘Mixed’ group comprising of seven multiparous non-lactating cows and three experimental primiparous cows. The experimental animals were added to a resident group that contained 15 animals (10 multiparous cows and 5 primiparous cows) within 24 h of calving. The behaviour of the experimental animals was assessed immediately after the mixing period and also after feeding during the first month after introduction to the resident group (days 2, 4, 10, and 1 day in wks 3 and 4). In addition, data loggers were attached to the animals for a 24 h period on five occasions during the first month after calving to assess lying behaviour. Lying location and synchronicity of lying with the rest of the group was assessed by direct observation on two consecutive days each wk during the 2-h period prior to evening milking. Milk production, serum cortisol levels and changes in body condition and live weight were assessed during the first month after calving. ‘Mixed’ animals received fewer butts (P < 0.05) after mixing, and these animals also showed increased locomotion during this period (P < 0.05). After feeding, ‘Mixed’ animals performed more ‘shouldering’ of other animals and increased locomotion (P < 0.05), and received fewer butts (P < 0.001). Also during this period animals in the ‘Unmixed’ treatment were located in the cubicles to a greater extent (P < 0.01). Animals in the ‘Mixed’ treatment were located to a greater extent in the front passage after feeding (P < 0.001). During observations prior to evening milking, both treatment groups were located in the rear passage significantly more than resident cows (P < 0.05). No significant treatment effects were shown for milk yield, serum cortisol levels or body weight or condition score loss. Overall, giving primiparous cows experience with dry multiparous cows prior to calving appeared to improve their welfare when mixed into a group containing older animals after calving through leading to lower levels of received aggression. It is suggested that the increased levels of aggression and locomotion performed by these animals, and the increased time spent near the front feeding passage after feeding, reflected increased ‘confidence’ in ‘Mixed’ animals.


Back to Resources