Housing cattle indoors on concrete floors has negative welfare implications and has high economic costs. The aim of this experiment was to evaluate the behaviour, welfare, performance and climatic energy demand of yearling dairy heifers on two levels of nutrition kept on an out-wintering pad or indoors in cubicles. Ninety-six yearlings, were blocked and assigned to one of four treatments in groups of eight: a) indoors, silage only b) indoors, silage plus concentrate c) outdoors, silage only d) outdoors, silage plus concentrate. All animals were inspected for lesions at the beginning and end of the trial. Instantaneous and continuous recording by direct observation were used to collect data on behaviour. Animals were weighed and body condition scored and feed intakes were recorded. There were significantly more comfort, social and play behaviours recorded outdoors (P<0.01). Trips/slips and falls were only recorded indoors (P<0.01). Nutrition had no effect on these parameters. There was no effect of housing or nutrition on time spent standing or lying (P>0.05). Fewer yearlings outdoors were affected by limb lesions (P<0.001) but they were dirtier than animals indoors (P<0.05). Yearlings outdoors had significantly lower average daily weight gains and body condition scores (P<0.05), which was partly explained by lower intakes. However, their performance did not fall below recommended targets. Furthermore, heat loss did not exceed heat production for any of the animals. In conclusion, the out-wintering pad was associated with significant improvements to animal welfare and did not seriously compromise performance.
Keywords: Behaviour, climatic energy demand, dairy cattle, housing systems, welfare
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