Hot weather increases competition between dairy cows at the drinker

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Dairy Science








aggressive behavior; heat stress; social rank; water intake


© 2020 American Dairy Science Association Heat-stressed dairy cows on pasture will compete for resources that aid cooling, but it is not known how heat stress affects the competition for water by indoor-housed cows. The aim of this observational study was to evaluate how heat stress affects the behavior of indoor-housed cows at the drinker at both group and cow levels. For 3 wk after calving, cows were housed in a dynamic group of 20 animals in a pen with 12 electronic feed bins, 2 electronic water bins, and 24 freestalls. A total of 69 lactating Holstein dairy cows were enrolled over the 59-d study. The electronic water bins recorded time spent at the drinker, frequency of visits, water intake, and competitive events for 24 h/d. Competitive events were quantified using the number of replacements (recorded when there was a ≤29-s interval between 2 cows sequentially visiting the same drinker). The number of replacements a cow was involved in was used to determine her level of competitive success at the drinker (low, medium, high). The temperature–humidity index (THI) was recorded by the local weather station, and moving averages for daily maximum THI over a 3-d period were calculated. For the analysis of time spent at the drinker, frequency of visits, and water intake, the measures from all cows were averaged to create 1 observation per day, and the number of replacements at the drinker was summed. A linear regression was performed to determine the relationship between THI and group-level drinking behavior. At the cow level, a repeated measures mixed model, with fixed effects of level of competitive success, milk yield, and 3-d maximum THI and a first-order autoregressive covariance structure, was used to determine how increasing THI affects the drinking behavior of individual cows based on their level of competitive success. Feed intake was included as a fixed effect in the water intake model. We found that, with increasing THI, cows drank more water, spent more time at the drinker, made more visits to the drinker, and engaged in more competitive events at the drinker. In exploratory analysis, we found that cows with low competitive success at the drinker shifted their drinking behavior to avoid the drinker at the hottest and most competitive time of day. These results indicate that behavior can be used to indicate when cows feel hot. These measures may be of practical value in deciding when to provide cooling, especially for farms where attendance at the drinker can be monitored electronically.

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