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Cows discriminate between
flooring surfaces in front of the feeder
B.J. DeCook, M.C. Nelson, C.B. Tucker and D.M. Weary
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Flooring surfaces are thought to impact the comfort of animals housed indoors, such as dairy cows in free-stall barns. Nine pregnant, non-lactating Holstein cows were individually housed with access to two standing platforms filled with either concrete or sawdust, directly in front of, but separated from feed by metal headlockers. Concrete and sawdust were chosen as flooring surfaces to represent a contrast in comfort. We determined if cows discriminated between two flooring surfaces, as measured by preference, and assessed how flooring surface affected feeding behavior. Animals were acclimatized to both surfaces for 7 days. Following this, animals were fed in front of each treatment surface for 4 days. Animals were then fed hay ad libitum from both surfaces for 3 days to assess preference. Nine of nine animals preferred the sawdust surface over concrete (P < 0.01) and spent 69% of their total time at the feeder and 65% of their time with their head in the headlocker on the sawdust surface. When hay was offered only in front of a single feeding platform animals spent, on average, an additional 42 ± 18 minutes (mean ± sed) on sawdust compared to concrete (P = 0.07). Feed intake and duration of visits to each surface followed a similar pattern. The difference in total time standing on the sawdust surface was driven primarily by an increase in time spent standing without eating (27 ± 10 minutes, mean ± sed, P = 0.03). Sometimes, cows stood eating with only the front legs on the treatment surface. Cows were more than twice as likely to eat in this position when fed in front of the concrete surface (P = 0.02). In conclusion, cows clearly preferred, spent more time standing without eating on, and altered feeding position when housed with a more comfortable flooring surface in front of the feeder.
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