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News Article

Access to pasture valued as highly as fresh feed

Study shows dairy cows highly motivated for outdoor access

A study published in the open access Scientific Reports, shows that dairy cows are highly motivated to be outside.

To determine if pasture access is important to the cows themselves, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) investigated the extent to which cows will work to access pasture (by pushing on a weighted gate), and compared it to the motivation to access fresh feed. They found that the cows worked hard to access pasture, especially at night. As a comparison, the researchers also measured how much weight the cows would push to access their regular feed when kept indoors; cows worked just as hard to go outside as they did to access fresh feed when they were hungry.

According to Marina von Keyserlingk, the study's lead author and an animal welfare professor in UBC's Faculty of Land and Food Systems, many dairy cows in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world are housed exclusively indoors. She explained that while indoor housing may meet the cow's basic needs for food, water, hygiene and shelter, it does not allow the cow to engage in natural behaviours.

Co-author and UBC animal welfare professor Dan Weary added that while improving the cow's quality of life is important for the animal, it is also important for the people involved, including the farmers that care for them and the consumers who buy dairy products.

The researchers said their findings support previous research that found public opinion of a good life for cattle involves outdoor grazing access.

Dairy cows value access to pasture as highly as fresh feed. von Keyserlingk MAG, Cestari AA, Franks B, Fregonesi JA, Weary DM. Scientific Reports 7, 44953; doi: 10.1038/srep44953 (2017)


Article details

  • Date
  • 27 March 2017
  • Source
  • University of British Columbia
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal nutrition