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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Cow characteristics associated with the variation in number of contacts between dairy cows

Hansson, I.; Silvera, A.; Ren, K.; Woudstra, S.; Skarin, A.; Fikse, W. F.; Nielsen, P. P.; Ronnegard, L.


In modern freestall barns where large groups of cows are housed together, the behavior displayed by herd mates can influence the welfare and production of other individuals. Therefore, understanding social interac-tions in groups of dairy cows is important to enhance herd management and optimize the outcomes of both animal health and welfare in the future. Many factors can affect the number of social contacts in a group. This study aimed to identify which characteristics of a cow are associated with the number of contacts it has with other group members in 2 different functional areas (feeding and resting area) to increase our under-standing of the social behavior of dairy cows. Inside 2 herds housed in freestall barns with around 200 lactat-ing cows each, cow positions were recorded with an ultra-wideband real-time location system collecting all cows' positions every second over 2 wk. Using the posi-tioning data of the cows, we quantified the number of contacts between them, assuming that cows spending time in proximity to one another (within a distance of 2.5 m for at least 10 min per day) were interact-ing socially. We documented in which barn areas these interactions occurred and used linear mixed models to investigate if lactation stage, parity, breed, pregnancy status, estrus, udder health, and claw health affect the number of contacts. We found variation in the num-ber of contacts a cow had between individuals in both functional areas. Cows in later lactation had more con-tacts in the feeding area than cows in early lactation. Furthermore, in one herd, higher parity cows had fewer contacts in the feeding area than first parity cows, and in the other herd, cows in third parity or higher had more contacts in the resting area. This study indicates that cow characteristics such as parity and days in milk are associated with the number of contacts a cow has daily to its herd mates and provides useful information for further research on social interactions of dairy cows.


dairy cow; real-time location system; social interactions

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2023, Volume: 106, number: 4, pages: 2685-2699