As you may already know, the most widely utilized housing system for dairy cows in Canada is tie-stall housing. This exercise project is a part of one of our lab’s larger research efforts- looking into the ways that restriction of movement impacts welfare. Movement opportunity may be addressed by altering components of the tie-stalls themselves (such as stall width and chain length), but in this case we will be providing it in the form of access to outdoor exercise.
We first collected baseline data before any cow went outside. Short videos will be used for determining stall lameness scores and pictures were taken for assessing teat end scoring. These factors will be recorded two more times; during the middle of the experiment and at the end.
Thanks to Sirine and Niklaus that helped me taking these pics.
Each of the eight focal cows is grouped with a stall neighbor that is a companion and a stall neighbor that is a control. The focal and companion cows go outside together such that no animal is outside of the barn on its own, while the control cow remains inside. Focal and control cows are fitted with IceTagTM activity loggers to record data on movement every minute. Before leaving for the exercise pens, focal cows are fitted with an additional IceTagTM that is set to record every second. The information for focal and control cows will be compared at the end of experimentation.
We are approaching the third week of the habituation phase. It is important that all cows (and people!) involved become used to the routine of coming outside, respecting the boundaries of the electrical fencing, and re-entering the barn in an organized manner.
We began by bringing out one pair of cows at a time, then gradually increased the duration of their time outside. Next week we will be bringing out multiple pairs at a time. The goal after all is to have all eight pairs outside, with each pair in their own pen.
One of the main questions we are hoping to answer is as follows: What are the conditions to maximize locomotion during exercise periods? The study will follow a Latin square design, testing different treatments which vary in terms of duration and space allowed for exercise. Each pair of focal and companion cows will experience a specific treatment for a week, with live behavioral observations being recorded towards the end of that week. The following week, the pairs will experience the next treatment such that we can compare their activities during each of the eight combinations of exercise time and exercise area. The behavioral observations, coupled with the IceTagTM data, will help in our understanding of what the cows are actually doing when given the opportunity to exercise. Do they stick close to their companion cow? Do they explore the entire area of the larger paddock? Do they exhibit play behavior?
A repetition of this entire process is planned for the warmer summer months. This way, we will be able to see if there are any differences in the cows’ behavior that may be based on seasonality. Perhaps they are more active when there is not snow on the ground?
Application of the treatments is set to begin in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned for updates on how the experiment is coming along!
Finally, our lab owes a great deal of thanks to the staff of the Macdonald Campus farm for always being helpful and cooperative during our research endeavors!
Stay tooned for more!