Characterizing the behavior and management of dairy cows and neonate calves shortly after birth

PI: Kate Creutzinger


Creutzinger is an assistant professor in animal and food science at UW–River Falls, whose position is funded entirely by the Dairy Innovation Hub. Her research interests involve the improvement of dairy cattle quality of life used in various agriculture systems by developing a robust teaching and research program focused on applied behavior, welfare, and sustainability. Creutzinger started in August 2021.

Despite advancements in nutrition and epidemiology, dairy cows remain at high risk of disease after giving birth. A main gap in our knowledge is the optimal housing environment for these vulnerable animals, which would require a fundamental understanding of cow behavior and preferences after calving. When kept on range, beef cattle leave the herd to find a secluded environment to give birth and return to the group gradually over a period of days. Indoor-housed cows perform pre-calving behaviors consistent with pastured animals, including separating from the herd and hiding. Yet, it has not been investigated if dairy cattle have retained natural post-calving behaviors. The overall goal of this project is to characterize cow and calf behaviors after calving in a semi-natural setting, as well as common management practices for early lactation cows in Wisconsin. The first objective is to investigate the disease prevalence and detailed behavior after calving for cows and calves kept together on pasture, including their preference for visual seclusion and rejoining the herd. Cows will be kept on a pasture with tall grasses and trees, equipped with video cameras. The second objective is to survey Wisconsin dairy producers to characterize the management, housing, and reported disease rates for dairy cows in the first three weeks of lactation. Results from this project will create foundational knowledge about the natural behavior of dairy cows and calves shortly after birth and identify shortcomings in early lactation management that can be addressed to improve the welfare of dairy cows.

Jennifer Van Os