AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE SOCIAL INTERACTION AND DEMONSTRATION OF PREFERENCE FOR LOCATION OF COWS IN A COMMERCIAL DAIRY HERD.
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Under free-ranging conditions cattle live in social groups because it is beneficial to them in terms of risk of predation, breeding synchronisation and collective intelligence, amongst others. However, current dairy cattle management practice is not geared toward management of the cow for her social wellbeing but rather for the ability to feed and manage appropriately and meet the cows’ main needs that affect productivity and profitability. Domestic dairy cattle do not have free ranging opportunities. Heifers are managed in cohort groups from birth to calving and have little, if any, interaction with the adult herd until they calve. This study investigated the nearest neighbour preference and preference for location on a lactation group level in a commercial herd of 159 lactating dairy cows, during the winter housing period in the South Hams, Devon. CCTV cameras were used to record cow order at milking and cows were observed directly in the feeding and cubicle yards. This study determined that there were strong interactions within the lactation groups between younger animals in the herd. These findings suggest that cows in larger and younger cohort groups, have little need to form bonds outside of that group. Understanding the dynamic social nature of dairy cattle and their apparent preference for interaction with familiar animals, could lead to the development of management techniques that focus on the group rather than individual animals, reducing stress and positively impacting on welfare and production.
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