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Conference paper, 2016

Use of mechanical rotating brushes in dairy cows – a potential proxy for performance and welfare?

Keeling, Linda; de Oliveira, Daiana; Rustas, Bengt-Ove


Mechanical brushes are becoming routine on dairy farms to improve cattle welfare. Their use could potentially be automatically recorded on an individual cow level. We investigated brush use in a mixed group of 72 Holstein (32%) and Swedish Red (68%) dairy cattle over a 9-week period in a loose housing cubicle system. Milk yield and feed consumption were monitored individually and merged with data from behaviour observations of brush use by individual cows. From observations of  social  behaviour  (giver  and  receiver) we  determined  the  dominance  rank  (based  on  butting,  threats, pushing and fighting) and the affiliative rank (based on social licking and sniffing) for each individual. Affiliative rank affected frequency and duration of brush use, high receivers of affiliative social behaviour visited the brush most often and middle affiliative brushed for the shortest duration. Dominance rank affected duration of a brush bout, which was shortest for middle dominance ranked cows. There was a positive relationship between the frequency of brush use, milk yield and intake of roughage. Each additional brush use was associated with a higher milk yield of 1.52 kg and a higher roughage intake of 0.67 kg dry matter per day. It can be hypothesised that the tactile stimulation from the brush is a trigger for the oxytocin release chain which drives milk yield and consequently feed consumption. If confirmed, deviations from a cow’s usual brush use level may be an early indicator of future changes in performance. More research is needed to support the proposed link between changes in brush use and changes in welfare. We speculate on the steps towards automated brush monitoring as a potential management tool.

Published in

Book title: Precision Dairy Farming 2016
ISBN: 978-90-8686-283-2, eISBN: 978-90-8686-829-2
Publisher: Wageningen Academic Publishers


Precision Dairy Farming 2016