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Bunching behavior in housed dairy cows at higher ambient temperatures

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posted on 2024-06-25, 10:19 authored by Kareemah Chopra, Holly R Hodges, Zoe E Barker, Jorge A Vázquez Diosdado, Jonathan R Amory, Tom C Cameron, Darren P Croft, Nick J Bell, Andy Thurman, David Bartlett, Edward A Codling
Bunching behavior in cattle may occur for several reasons including enabling social interactions, a response to stress or danger, or due to shared interest in resources such as feeding or watering areas. There is evidence in pasture grazed cattle that bunching may occur more frequently at higher ambient temperatures, possibly due to sharing of fly-load or to seek shade from the direct sun under heat stress conditions. Here we demonstrate how bunching behavior is associated with higher ambient temperatures in a barn-housed UK dairy herd. A real-time local positioning system was used, as part of a precision livestock farming (PLF) approach, to track the spatial position and activity of a commercial dairy herd (∼100 cows) in a freestall barn continuously at high temporal resolution for 4 mo between August and November 2014. Bunching was determined using 4 different spatial measures determined on an hourly basis: herd full and core range size, mean herd intercow distance (ICD), and mean herd nearest-neighbor distance (NND). For hourly mean ambient temperatures above 20°C, the herd showed higher bunching behavior with increasing ambient temperature (i.e., reduced full and core range size, ICD, and NND). Aggregated space-use intensity was found to positively correlate with localized variations in temperature across the barn (as measured by animal-mounted sensors), but the level of correlation decreased at higher ambient barn temperatures. Bunching behavior may increase localized temperatures experienced by individuals and hence may be a maladaptive behavioral response in housed dairy cattle, which are known to suffer heat stress at higher temperatures. Our study is the first to use high-resolution positional data to provide evidence of associations between bunching behavior and higher ambient temperatures for a barn-housed dairy herd in a temperate region (UK). Further studies are needed to explore the exact mechanisms for this response to inform both welfare and production management.



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Publication title

Journal of Dairy Science




American Dairy Science Association


United States


Writtle School of Agriculture, Animal and Environment Sciences

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  • Published version


  • eng

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Journal Article

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