Relation between animal behavior and free cow traffic

In this article we will review some studies into the relationship between animal behavior and free cow traffic. We know that cows have their own rhythm during the day in a milking robot environment, but can we influence this through our management?

Management, T4C & InHerd, Cow health, Milking

When looking at the way in which a lactating dairy cow spends her time when housed in a free stall environment, this can be split into seven main categories, namely: eating, lying/resting, ruminating, milking, drinking, standing and socializing (Grant and Albright, 2000). The main part of the day is filled by lying/resting (14 hours) and eating (5 hours). We have established that it is these activities that - in combination with drinking – are decisive, amongst others, for milk production and can be influenced through the dairy farmer’s management. 

An article by Deming et al.  that was recently published in the Journal of Dairy Science (vol: 96, p.: 344-351) goes into the mutual associations of housing, management, milking activity as well as standing and lying behavior of dairy cows that are milked by means of automated systems.

Farm management is very important since it has a great impact on production and animal behavior.Greenough and Vermunt, (199); Singh et al., (1993); Bickert and Cermak, (1997) pointed out that “Poorly designed or mismanaged housing facilities can alter normal social interactions, interfere with lying behavior, and result in longer standing durations”. Wierenga and Hopster, 1990; Leonard et al., 1996; Fregonesi et al., 2007 found out that: for instance, overcrowded barns and long waiting time for access to milking(Ketelaar de Lauwere et al., 1996; Gomez and Cook, 2010) have been demonstrated to affect the time cows have available for eating and lying behaviors.”

Influence of Farm Management on behavior

Based upon this research we can conclude that the impact described can be minimized if we pursue free cow traffic, so that cows have unlimited access to all facilities at all times, and maintain the minimum of 10% free time per robot, to avoid a long post-milking time, in combination with free access without obstructions or gates.

Feeding behavior and milking

In the same article, reference is made to a previous AMS study in which DeVries et al., 2011 pointed out that“post-milking standing duration increased when cows milked close in time to a feed delivery or feed push-up, suggesting that frequent feed delivery and push-up may increase post-milking standing duration. However, in the above described study, post-milking standing behavior was not found to be associated with frequency of feed delivery. Pre-milking standing duration was negatively associated with frequency of feed push-ups (Table1).

Table 1.png
Table 1

Analyzing the numbers in Table 1 we see that, as the frequency of the feed push-ups increases, the pre-milking standing duration decreases. And this may be related to the  hypothesis in the article that when feed is more readily available to cows, they may choose to lie down rather than actively search for food at the fence. An additional advantage that we establish is the fact that the low-ranking cows have better access to the feed.


One of the conclusions we can draw from this research and literature is that the availability of (fresh) feed, amongst others, has a great impact on cow behavior in terms of lying duration and pre-milking standing duration. Lely believes that cows, in addition to the availability of feed, should also have free access to milking. For cows to be able to visit the robot and feed fence regularly, it is important that they can rest sufficiently and relieve  the pressure on their feet and legs. So, if we restrict one or more of these basic needs, this will affect cow behavior and subsequently milk production. In a nutshell: cows should have unlimited access to these basic needs without any restrictions. In other words: Free Cow Traffic should be applied.


J.A. Deming, R. Bergeron, K.E. Leslie, T.J. DeVries; Associations of housing, management, milking activity, and standing and lying behavior of dairy cows milked in automatic systems. Journal of Dairy Science (96:344-351)