Physiological and behavioural responses of grazing dairy cows to an acute metabolic challenge.

Müller, Esther; Münger, Andreas; Mandel, Roi; Eggerschwiler, Lukas; Schwinn, Ann-Catherine; Gross, Josef Johann; Bruckmaier, Rupert M; Hess, H Dieter; Dohme-Meier, Frigga (2018). Physiological and behavioural responses of grazing dairy cows to an acute metabolic challenge. Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition, 102(5), pp. 1120-1130. Blackwell Science 10.1111/jpn.12931

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Due to seasonal changes in the quality and quantity of herbage, the nutrient supply to grazing dairy cows is not always sufficient, which may increase their metabolic load. To investigate the temporal pattern of behavioural changes in relation to concomitant metabolic alterations, we subjected 15 multiparous early lactating Holstein dairy cows (24 (SD 7.4) days in milk) to a short-term metabolic challenge, which we provoked by abruptly withdrawing concentrate for 1 week. Cows grazed full-time and were supplemented with concentrate in experimental week (EW) 1 and EW 3, whereas concentrate was withdrawn in EW 2. We analysed milk and blood samples to characterise the metabolic changes and found that the total yield of milk and protein decreased (p < 0.05) and fat yield, fat-to-protein ratio and acetone content increased (p < 0.05) from EW 1 to EW 2. Plasma glucose and insulin concentrations were lower (p < 0.05), and concentrations of nonesterified fatty acids and beta-hydroxybutyrate were higher (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1. Apart from ingestive and rumination behaviour and activity, we also monitored the use of an automated brush on pasture. While time spent eating and ruminating increased (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1, time spent idling decreased (p < 0.05). Concomitantly, while time standing and moving increased (p < 0.05) from EW 1 to EW 2, walking time decreased (p < 0.05). The daily proportion of cows using the automated brush decreased (p < 0.05) in EW 2 compared with EW 1, as did the duration of brushing per day. In conclusion, grazing cows experiencing a metabolic challenge try to compensate for the nutrient deficiency by increasing eating time, a behavioural element important for short-term survival. Due to the strong impact of weather conditions, we cannot currently recommend observation of outdoor brushing activity to address short-term alterations in the metabolic state of grazing cows.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Clinical Research and Veterinary Public Health (DCR-VPH) > Veterinary Physiology

UniBE Contributor:

Gross, Josef Johann


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




Blackwell Science




Josef Johann Gross

Date Deposited:

28 Jun 2018 10:45

Last Modified:

24 Oct 2019 14:46

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

automated brush dairy cow grazing ingestive behaviour metabolic load well-being




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