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Are there benefits in introducing dairy heifers to the main dairy herd in the evening rather than the morning?

Boyle, A.R., Ferris, C.P., O’Connell, N.E.
Journal of dairy science 2012 v.95 no.7 pp. 3650-3661
Holstein, adverse effects, aggression, body condition, body weight, calving, cortisol, cows, dairy heifers, dairy herds, feed concentrates, feed intake, milk, milk yield, milking, milking parlors, total mixed rations
Twenty-eight Holstein Friesian dairy heifers were assigned to 1 of 2 treatments after calving. These experimental heifers were introduced to an established group of resident cows either between 0600 and 0800h (i.e., after morning milking, a.m.) or between 1600 and 1800h (i.e., after evening milking, p.m.). The size of the resident group remained constant at 18 animals (12 multiparous cows and 6 primiparous cows). There were 5 replicate or resident groups in total, and 2 to 3 nonexperimental primiparous cows in each group were replaced by a.m. and by p.m. heifers as they calved. Fresh total mixed ration was provided daily between 1000 and 1030h, and concentrate feed was offered in the milking parlor. The behavior of the experimental heifers was assessed over a 2-h period immediately after mixing into the resident group, and also after feed provision during the first month in the group. In addition, time spent lying was assessed each week for 1 mo using data loggers attached over 24-h periods. The lying behavior and location of the entire group was also assessed by direct observations during the 2-h period before evening milking on 2 consecutive days each week for 1 mo. The time spent feeding by experimental heifers was recorded automatically using computerized feeding gates. Milk production, milk cortisol concentrations, and changes in body condition and body weight were also assessed over the first month after calving. Heifers in the a.m. treatment spent longer in receipt of aggressive behaviors such as threats, butts, and chases immediately after mixing compared with those in the p.m. treatment. During the feeding periods, heifers in the a.m. treatment were observed feeding for longer, showed less pen exploration, and also received more butts. No significant treatment effects were shown on overall feed intake levels, milk yield, milk cortisol concentrations, body weight, or body condition score loss. However, feed intakes were higher in the a.m. treatment during the second week after mixing, and automated recordings showed that a.m. animals spent longer average periods of time feeding. No significant treatment differences were shown in overall time spent lying, with heifers in both treatments lying for less than 4h during the first 24h in the group. Observations of the entire group showed that p.m. heifers spent less time lying than resident animals or a.m. heifers. In conclusion, the reduction in received aggression and the lack of adverse effects on performance (milk production and weight and condition loss) suggest that heifers should be introduced to the main dairy herd after evening rather than morning milking. Further research to determine the relative importance of time of day and time since feeding on behavior immediately after mixing would be beneficial.