In conversations revolving around welfare, a common topic is pasture allowance. Particularly among consumers, there is great interest to the merits of permanent pasture housing versus permanent enclosure and cow’s choice.
At the recent Four-State Dairy Nutrition Conference, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Jennifer Van Os summarized recent research addressing the question, “Do cows prefer pasture or barn housing?” She also addressed a second question, “Are cows motivated to seek out pasture?”
In one study, researchers deprived cows of feed for 1.5 hours and then tested the motivation of cows to seek out either a total mixed ration or pasture. They found cows were motivated to push through a gate to reach both options equally.
The researchers concluded that pasture was important to cows. That led Van Os to pose the question “Does that mean we have to provide it?”
She presented further research that dove into this second question. Studies that she shared looked at cow preferences between pasture and barn housing. Cows opted to go outside sometimes and stay inside others. Specifically, they found cows were more likely to go outside during the night and spend the daytime inside. When it was raining, they stayed inside.
Behavior is a difficult measurement to pin down as a measure of cow contentment. That being said, consumer interest in the topic will continue to push researchers to better understand cow motivation and preference.