Dairy heifers benefit from the presence of an experienced companion when learning how to graze

J. H.C. Costa, W. G. Costa, D. M. Weary, L. C.P. Machado Filho, M. A.G. von Keyserlingk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Pasture remains important on many dairy farms, but the age of first contact with pasture varies depending on the month of birth, weaning age, and farm management. Regardless of age, naïve dairy heifers must learn to graze when first introduced to pasture. This study investigated whether being grouped with experienced dairy cows would affect the development of grazing behaviors. Sixty-three Holstein heifers (mean ± SD 14.2 ± 1.3 mo; 546 ± 60.7. kg) and 21 dry Holstein cows (2.6 ± 0.8 lactations; 751 ± 53.9. kg) were assigned into 7 groups of 12 animals (3 dry cows and 9 naïve heifers), and each was divided and assigned to an experienced (3 cows and 3 heifers) and nonexperienced (6 heifers) sub-group. Sub-groups were introduced to pasture in different paddocks without visual contact with any other cattle. No difference was found in the time after introduction to the paddock for heifers to first attempt to nibble grass [experienced: 0:23 (0:17-0:43) vs. nonexperienced 0:40 (0:35-0:46); median (quartile 1 - quartile 3), h:mm]. However, heifers grouped with experienced cows showed a shorter latency to begin grazing [experienced: 0:47 (0:28-00:52) vs. nonexperienced 2:13 (1:25-2:30)]. During the first hour after introduction to pasture, heifers in the experienced treatment showed fewer stomping events [experienced: 2.5 (1.25-4) vs. nonexperienced: 6.5 (4-8)] and vocalized less often [experienced: 3.5 (1.25-5.75) vs. nonexperienced: 7 (5-8.75)]. After this initial period, animals in both subgroups began to graze normally; treatments did not differ in grazing behaviors over the 3-d observation period. These results indicate that grouping heifers with pasture-experienced cows improves grazing behavior of dairy heifers in the first hours following introduction to pasture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-568
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the staff and students at the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre who helped in this experiment, especially Eraldo Drago Filho and Rolnei Ruã Dáros for their help with data collection. J. H. C. Costa was supported by a scholarship from CNPq, Brazil. W. G. Costa was supported by an Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) scholarship. M. A. G. von Keyserlingk and D. M. Weary are supported by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair Program with industry contributions from the Dairy Farmers of Canada (Ottawa, ON, Canada), British Columbia Dairy Association (Burnaby, BC Canada), Westgen Endowment Fund (Milner, BC, Canada), Intervet Canada Corporation (Kirkland, QC, Canada), Zoetis (Kirkland, QC, Canada), Novus International Inc. (Oakville, ON, Canada), BC Cattle Industry Development Fund (Kamloops, BC, Canada), Alberta Milk (Edmonton, AB, Canada), Valacta (St. Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, Canada), and CanWest DHI (Guelph, ON, Canada).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Dairy Science Association.


  • Dairy replacement
  • Feeding behavior
  • Neophobia
  • Social facilitation
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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