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Characterising the spatial and temporal activities of free-ranging cows from GPS data

Anderson, Dean M., Winters, Craig, Estell, Rick E., Fredrickson, Ed L., Doniec, Marek, Detweiler, Carrick, Rus, Daniela, James, Darren, Nolen, Barbara
The Rangeland journal 2012 v.34 pp. 149
beef cows, calves, equipment, foraging, global positioning systems, landscape management, rangelands, temporal variation, walking, weaning
Electronic tracking provides a unique way to document behaviour by cows on a continuous basis. Over 2 years 17 beef cows with calves were fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices programmed to record uncorrected GPS locations at 1-s intervals in a semi-desert rangeland. Each cow was periodically observed during daylight hours and foraging, walking and stationary (standing/lying) activity times were recorded across days and individual cows to calculate a mean travel rate for each activity. Data without observers present were collected immediately preceding and following the abrupt weaning of calves at between 223 and 234 days of age to evaluate the potential of classifying various travel rates into foraging, walking and stationary activity. The three activities were further characterised within a 24-h period based on the sun’s angle with respect to the horizon. Only data from cows whose equipment acquired ≥ 90% of the potential GPS positional data among consecutive days were analysed. Due to problems with the equipment, data from two cows in 2009 and two cows in 2011 met these criteria. The interval evaluated consisted of four 24-h periods before abrupt weaning and seven 24-h periods following weaning. Results suggested that uncorrected 1-s positional GPS data are satisfactory to classify the behaviour by free-ranging beef cows into foraging, walking and stationary activities. Furthermore, abrupt weaning caused cows to change their spatial and temporal behaviour across and within days. Overall, travel by cows increased post-weaning with subtle within-day behavioural changes. Further research will be required to fully understand the biological importance of spatio-temporal behaviour to optimise cattle and landscape management goals.