The relationship between feed efficiency and behaviour differs between lactating Holstein and Jersey cows

J Dairy Res. 2023 Aug;90(3):257-260. doi: 10.1017/S0022029923000420. Epub 2023 Aug 24.


In dairy production, high feed efficiency (FE) is important to reduce feed costs and negative impacts of milk production on the climate and environment, yet little is known about the relationship between FE, eating behaviour and activity. This research communication describes how cows differing in FE, expressed as daily energy corrected milk production per unit of feed intake, differed in eating behaviour and activity. We used data from a study of 253 lactations obtained from 97 Holstein and 91 Jersey cows milked in an automatic milking system. Automated feed troughs recorded feed intake behaviour and cows wore a sensor that recorded activity from 5 to 200 d in milk (DIM). We used a mixed linear model to estimate random solutions for individual cows for traits of steps, lying and eating behaviour and calculated their correlation with FE during four periods (5-35, 36-75, 76-120 and 121-200 DIM). Separate analyses were performed for each breed and period. We found that individual level correlations between FE and behaviour traits were stronger in Jersey than in Holstein cows. Eating rate correlated weakly negatively to FE in Holstein cows and more strongly so in Jersey cows, such that efficient Jerseys were slower eaters. The physical activity of Jersey cows was weakly and negatively correlated to FE, but this was not the case in Holstein cows. We conclude that eating rate was consistently negatively associated with FE throughout lactation for Jersey cows, but not for Holstein cows.

Keywords: Cow activity; eating behaviour; feed conversion rate; feeding behaviour.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed* / analysis
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Eating
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Lactation*
  • Milk