Identify 'Boss' Cows at the Water Trough

Heins Family Farms in Higginsville, MO. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Every herd has a “boss” cow, but can dominate cattle cause submissive animals to drink less frequently? According to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia (UBC), they can.

Recently published in the April issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers found that animals who exhibited competitive behavior typically spent more time at water troughs than animals who showed timid characteristics.

UBC scientists sought to identify animals who initiated physical contact to other cattle, causing submissive cows to leave the waterer and dominate cows to take their place.

Using a surveillance camera along with an electronic drinking system that tracks individual animal attendance with ear tag transponders, researchers were able to identify animals who exhibited competitive behavior. Animals who showed higher dominance spent more time at the water trough than animals with submissive behavior, therefore, causing them to drink less. 

A fundamental part to an animal’s diet, water is the most important component to healthy cattle and high production, says Dave Beede, a dairy nutrition specialist with Michigan State University. High producing cows will drink upwards of 35 gallons of water daily.

However, there are ways to combat assertive cow behavior at the water trough.

Research at Kansas State University indicates that where you place cow water sources is almost as important as making sure your cows have a constant and ample supply of fresh water.

Additionally, placing more waterers throughout the facility may encourage submissive animals to visit watering locations that are unoccupied by assertive animals. 

In conclusion, scientists determined that social competition between dairy cows at the water trough could accurately be identified by using an electronic drinking system.

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