Smid et al., 2024 estrus behaviour outdoor pack

Published: 9 July 2024| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/92x2syjm8g.1
Anne-Marieke C. Smid, Tracy A. Burnett, Augusto M.L. Madureira, Kathryn J. McLellan, Claire S. Wegner, Marina von Keyserlingk, Daniel Martin Weary


Dairy cows have a partial preference to access an outdoor deep-bedded pack, but the effects of continuous access to an outdoor area on estrous behaviors has not been studied. Our objective was to investigate if access to an outdoor open deep-bedded pack improves the expression of estrus behaviors. We enrolled 60 lactating Holstein cows directly after calving and followed them each for 12 weeks. Cows were housed in a single freestall pen holding 36 cows at a time, with a dynamic group composition. Half of the cows were randomly assigned to the OUTDOOR treatment; these cows had access to an outdoor open pack via an automated selection gate. INDOOR cows were housed together with OUTDOOR cows but were not allowed outdoor access. All cows were fitted with an automated activity monitor (AAM) 21 ± 3 d before expected calving date. Estrous behaviors (i.e., standing to be mounted and mounting behaviors) were continuously monitored using video, and the intensity of mounting (i.e., the number of standing to be mounted and other mounting behaviors per hour) was calculated per estrus event per cow. Temperature and humidity were monitored by data loggers indoors, and these data were used to calculate the Temperature Humidity Index (THI). Following an alert from the AAM, cows were checked to detect the presence of a dominant preovulatory follicle and an absence of a mature corpus luteum (CL) by rectal ultrasonography following milking, as well as 7 d thereafter to confirm ovulation by the presence of a new CL. A total of 94 estrus events were used in the final analysis. INDOOR cows tended to have a lower mounting intensity with increasing indoor THI, but no such effect was noted for OUTDOOR cows. The total number of cows in estrus positively influenced mounting intensity. OUTDOOR cows had a longer duration of estrus, as measured by the automated monitors, compared with INDOOR cows (12.4 ± 0.7 h versus 9.9 ± 0.8 h). Estrus event number and the total number of cows in estrus were both positively associated with estrus duration. These results indicate that access to an outdoor pack tended to increase mounting behavior for freestall housed dairy cows, especially during periods of elevated THI. We conclude that providing dairy cows access to an outdoor area can help with estrus detection and may thus help improve the reproductive programs on dairy farms.



The University of British Columbia


Animal Behavior, Animal Reproduction, Agricultural Animal