Effect of grouping on behaviour of dairy heifers and cows in the transition period.


Soonberg M(1), Kass M(1), Kaart T(1), Barraclough R(2), Haskell MJ(3), Arney DR(1).
Author information:
(1)Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, Estonian University of Life Sciences, 51006, Tartu, Estonia.
(Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Campus, Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9RG, Scotland, UK.
(3)Scotland's Rural College, West Mains Road, Edinburgh, EH9 3JG, Scotland, UK.


Regrouping dairy cows is a common feature of dairy farm management. Cows are grouped based on lactation stage, age, milk yield and other factors. Regrouping cows during the dry period (from far-off area to close up area and from close up area to the main herd) brings new challenges. This is especially true for heifers who, after being confirmed gravid, may be grouped into a new pen with dried off cows. The aims of this study were to determine how grouping affects activity, nearest neighbour relationships and aggression, and how heifers' acclimatization to a new group differs from cows. Therefore, the hypotheses were that regrouping cows has less of an effect on older cows compared to heifers, and cows' individuality affects acclimatization to a new group. Aggression data were recorded using a video camera that was directed at the feed bunk, and activity was recorded with activity monitors that were attached around the right hind leg. Synchrony and distance to nearest neighbour were recorded, as was the cows' location on the first 3 d from the day they returned to the main herd. Motion index, mean number of steps and number of lying bouts were significantly higher after calving compared to the week before calving and the difference was higher amongst heifers compared to cows (P < 0.001). Both cows and heifers lay down more in the strawyard compared to cubicle housing (P < 0.01) and cows were more aggressive than heifers in both housing systems (P < 0.001 and P < 0.05, respectively). As hypothesized, heifers were more affected by regrouping and cows with more experience settled quicker to their new environment.