Who let the cows out?

My colleague Anne-Marieke Smid, a Ph.D. student in the UBC Animal Welfare Program, is nearing the end of a study she’s conducting. She is housing lactating cows in groups of 12 at a time. They have deep sand-bedded freestalls indoors and get access to an outdoor area.

In one of her previous studies, she gave cows access to a pasture overnight, but Anne-Marieke is also interested in understanding how cows respond to other types of outdoor options besides grass. In another study, she offered them an outdoor sand pack overnight. Now Anne-Marieke is providing cows with 24-hour access to a bark mulch pack, and she collected data in both summer and winter.

We’ve been working on a poster about these studies to present at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar next month (March 7-10) in Red Deer, Alberta. If you’re going to be there, please come by the UBC Dairy Education & Research Centre booth to meet us and we’ll tell you all about it! (*Update: see here for a recap of the meeting!)

This morning, it was time for a new group of cows to go outdoors for the first time and get used to the bark mulch pack. Last week we got a great deal of snow and there was still quite a bit on the ground, but today was a warmer day. Check out the photos below to see what the cows thought!


Anne-Marieke released pairs of cows at a time from the barn


They started sniffing around to check out the snow…


…and the bark mulch pack


They had to figure out that there was an electric fence around the pack


As more cows came out…


…things started getting frisky!


Some of the cows started bucking…


…and kicking!…


…and even rearing! WOOOHOOO!!!! (my luckiest photo of the day)


Here are all 12 girls outside on the bark mulch pack. Don’t they look like kids at recess?

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