Assessing the welfare challenges to out-wintered pregnant suckler cows

C. A. Morgan*, K. McIlvaney, C. M. Dwyer, A. B. Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Out-wintering beef cows reduces annual housing costs and bedding requirements and there is less exposure to diseases associated with housing. However, to counter these benefits cows may be exposed to conditions that pose a significant challenge to welfare, and ways of assessing this are required. Two feeding treatments were applied to four groups of 10 cows (two groups/treatment), one to maintain condition score (H) and the other to allow a modest loss of condition score (L), which is commonly applied in farm practice. Cow groups were rotated around four paddocks in a Latin Square design of four periods each of 3 weeks, and they were weighed and condition was scored at the end of each period. Their behaviour and location was recorded at 30-min intervals with six 3-h sessions in each period. Ambient temperature, wind speed, rainfall and solar radiation were recorded every 30min to enable calculation of cow lower critical temperature (LCT). The climatic conditions were wet at the start of the experiment with moderate wind speeds throughout (5 m/s) and relatively mild ambient temperature (5 degrees C). Feeding treatment had no significant effect on any of the variables measured. Cows spent most of the observation sessions standing, particularly at the beginning of the experiment when the soil conditions were wettest. They sought sheltered locations when wind speeds were high and thus their calculated LCT was near or below ambient temperature. Nutritional models predicted periods of cold stress but the cows adapted their behaviour to counteract this, emphasising the need for a combined physical and behavioural approach to assessing welfare challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1167-1174
Number of pages8
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


  • cows
  • lower critical temperature
  • behaviour
  • welfare
  • COLD


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