Physiological and behavioural responses of grazing dairy cows to an acute metabolic challenge

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Esther Müller
  • Andreas Münger
  • Mandel Briefer, Roi
  • Lukas Eggerschwiler
  • Ann-Catherine Schwinn
  • Josef J Gross
  • Rupert M Bruckmaier
  • H Dieter Hess
  • Frigga Dohme-Meier

Due to seasonal changes in the quality and quantity of herbage, the nutrient supply to grazing dairy cows is not always sufficient, which may increase their metabolic load. To investigate the temporal pattern of behavioural changes in relation to concomitant metabolic alterations, we subjected 15 multiparous early lactating Holstein dairy cows (24 (SD 7.4) days in milk) to a short-term metabolic challenge, which we provoked by abruptly withdrawing concentrate for 1 week. Cows grazed full-time and were supplemented with concentrate in experimental week (EW) 1 and EW 3, whereas concentrate was withdrawn in EW 2. We analysed milk and blood samples to characterise the metabolic changes and found that the total yield of milk and protein decreased (p < 0.05) and fat yield, fat-to-protein ratio and acetone content increased (p < 0.05) from EW 1 to EW 2. Plasma glucose and insulin concentrations were lower (p < 0.05), and concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids and beta-hydroxybutyrate were higher (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1. Apart from ingestive and rumination behaviour and activity, we also monitored the use of an automated brush on pasture. While time spent eating and ruminating increased (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1, time spent idling decreased (p < 0.05). Concomitantly, while time standing and moving increased (p < 0.05) from EW 1 to EW 2, walking time decreased (p < 0.05). The daily proportion of cows using the automated brush decreased (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1, as did the duration of brushing per day. In conclusion, grazing cows experiencing a metabolic challenge try to compensate for the nutrient deficiency by increasing eating time, a behavioural element important for short-term survival. Due to the strong impact of weather conditions, we cannot currently recommend observation of outdoor brushing activity to address short-term alterations in the metabolic state of grazing cows.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1120-1130
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Authors. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition Published by Blackwell Verlag GmbH.

    Research areas

  • Animal Husbandry/methods, Animals, Cattle/metabolism, Diet, Dietary Supplements, Eating, Feeding Behavior, Female, Lactation/metabolism, Milk, Poaceae/metabolism, Seasons

ID: 381234030