It has long been understood that cows are creatures of habit and, for the most part, they follow a strict time budget. Three to 5 hours are dedicated to the feedbunk, 10 to 13 are for lying down, 7 to 9 should be spent ruminating, and 2.5 to 3.5 are available for milking.
“If they can accomplish those things, they can be healthy and productive animals,” explained the University of Guelph’s Trevor DeVries at the recent Cornell Nutrition Conference. “One of the challenges that we have is that even though the sum total of time that cows need to devote to these various activities is much less than 24 hours, cows don’t always have the opportunity to maximize their ability to express all those different behaviors.”
One of the times they are most at risk for not achieving an ideal time budget is during the fresh period when they’re asked to dramatically change their behaviors to meet the demands of lactation.
DeVries explained that recently freshened cows spend as much as 4 to 5 hours per day at the feedbunk in order to nearly double intake compared to the dry period to meet lactation requirements. They also spend more time standing around and have the additional time out of pen for milking.
These added hours cut into the amount of time cows spend lying down. Like a kid returning to school after summer break, cows have to readjust to the demands of a full day.
DeVries posed the question then, “How do we make sure cows are devoting the time they need to each of these activities?”
First, he suggested promoting feeding time and meal frequency to encourage dry matter intake. This can be accomplished by providing small, frequent meals that are difficult to sort and stimulate rumination.
He also recommended feeding a stabilizing additive to help improve rumen conditions.Finally, DeVries acknowledged that cow movement can impact how the cow acclimates to a new pen following its time in fresh cow pens. He said moving cows in small groups or during quieter times of the day can reduce pen movement issues.