Dairy cows are twice as likely to choose to be indoors, rather than at pasture when given the choice.

Jenny Gibbons, research and development manager at Dairy Co, explained at the British Society of Animal Science large-scale livestock conference, held last week at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, how it was initially thought that availability of total mixed ration (TMR) indoors influenced their preference. However, when TMR was offered 50/50 indoors and outdoors, it had no effect on the cows’ preference.”

For herds where land availability is limited, “loafing areas” enable cows to go outside. “The cows clearly preferred to use loafing areas in good weather, with grooming brushes being an encouragement,” said Dr Gibbons.

Dr Gibbons also reported that suitable standing areas are important to cows, with a preference for rubber versus concrete.

“They also seek a dry standing area, and moving the cubicle rail to allow all four feet into the dry cubicle resulted in a significant improvement in recovery from lameness.”

Dr Gibbons emphasised the boundaries of the “freedom to express natural behaviour” are loose and open to interpretation, and the key to cow welfare is good stockmanship and cow management.”