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Influence of the social hierarchy within the herd on the individual drinking behaviour of dairy cows

Abstract : The absence of thirst is a fundamental criterion of animal welfare but it is very heterogeneously respected in dairy farming. Recommendations of the number and the location of drinkers exists but few studies have quantified the variability in drinking behaviour between cows from the same herd in relation to social hierarchy. A herd of 22 mid lactating cows was observed for 3 weeks. The cows were housed in a free stall and fed a total mixed ration distributed in individual troughs specific to each animal, with 2 meals a day. After each meal distribution, the cows were blocked at the feed fence for 1 hour. The drinking behaviour was monitored using 6 connected drinking troughs that recorded, for each drinking bout, the start time, duration, volume and identity of the cow. Six cameras also recorded the agonistic behaviours of the cows in the stall. Nine days of recording were analysed to build a matrix of agonistic interactions between individuals. 828 agonistic interactions were observed. They occurred mainly in the areas of the stall with drinking troughs and in the hours following the meals (61% of the agonistic interactions were observed within 2 hours following the morning meal). Drinking bouts were also very concentrated on the time after meals and some drinking troughs were clearly preferred over others depending on their distance from the troughs or their accessibility. The quantities of water drunk by drinking trough varied from 150.6 to 420.2 l/d. Four hierarchical groups were defined. The most subordinate groups had lower visit numbers and lower drunk volumes at the drinking troughs that were more used by the herd and the most subordinate group drank more than the other groups at the drinking troughs that were least used by the herd. The number of available drinking troughs was far higher than the most severe recommendations. It seems relevant, in the continuation of this work, to question the satisfaction of the needs for watering of the subordinate animals of a herd in systems strictly respecting the recommendations.
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Contributor : Emilie Bernard <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 11:45:29 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 12:54:02 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-03142739, version 1


Anne Boudon, C. Gérard, Marie-Christine Meunier-Salaun, Vanessa Lollivier, Jacques Lassalas. Influence of the social hierarchy within the herd on the individual drinking behaviour of dairy cows. 71. Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), EAAP, Dec 2020, Virtual meeting, Portugal. ⟨hal-03142739⟩



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