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Implications of prolonged milking time on time budgets and lying behavior of cows in large pasture-based dairy herds

Beggs, D.S., Jongman, E.C., Hemsworth, P.E., Fisher, A.D.
Journal of dairy science 2018 v.101 no.11 pp. 10391-10397
animal welfare, cows, dairy herds, diet, farms, forage, grazing, lactation, milking, milking parlors, pastures, regression analysis, risk, walking
In large Australian pasture-based dairy herds, it is common for the time taken to milk a herd of cows to be up to 4 h. Cows are collected from the paddock as a group, wait in turn in the dairy yard to be milked, and then return individually to the paddock or feed pad immediately after leaving the milking parlor. In such herds, we previously found a consistent milking order, resulting in some cows being regularly away from pasture for several hours per day more than others. Increased time away from pasture may affect the time budgets of cows because of decreased opportunity for grazing or lying down. Lying behavior is a high-priority behavior for cows, and the duration of lying has been used as an important measure of their welfare. We applied activity monitors for 7 d to 15 cows toward the beginning and 15 cows toward the end of the milking order in 10 dairy herds milking 500 to 730 cows as a single group to understand the effect of extra time spent in the dairy on lying behavior. Study cows typically produced 6,000 to 8,000 L in a 300-d lactation on rotary dairy platforms with 40 to 80 units, being fed 2.5 to 6 kg of grain mix in the milking parlor daily, with the rest of the diet being supplied as pasture or forage provided in the pasture or close to the exit of the dairy. Over the 10 farms, 1,948 cow-days were available for analysis. The furthest paddocks on each farm were 1.8 to 3.5 km walking distance from the dairy. A wide range of steps were taken each day, ranging from 1,705 to 15,075 (mean = 5,916). The main predictor of the number of steps was the farm on which the cows were located. Cows that spent less than an hour waiting to be milked (and would be unlikely to have their ability to lie down affected by the milking process) laid down for a mean of 9.8 h/d. Steps walked and delay in the dairy waiting to be milked were both significantly associated with lying time, but the effect was not large. A regression model accounting for the waiting time at the dairy, steps taken, cow age, and farm was used to investigate the relationship with daily lying time. For every 1,000 steps, lying time reduced by 0.49 h; however, the number of steps explained only 1% of the variation in lying time. For every hour increase in waiting time at the dairy, lying decreased by approximately 14 min, but this explained only 14% of the variation in lying. We concluded that milking time durations of 2 to 4 h, common in large Australian pasture-based dairy herds, did not significantly affect the time budget for lying of individual cows in our study herds. Whereas the effect of long milking times does not appear to be a major risk to animal welfare in terms of lying time, the effect on cow health and production warrants further investigation.