Nowadays cows spent more and longer time inside, mostly in modern cubicle housing systems. However, free range housing is becoming more popular. In these systems and also on pasture, cows spend almost 15 h/d lying down.
There are various aspects to investigate lying behaviour of cows in the pasture: magnetic body alignment, different cow postures and lateralization. Objective of this study was to determine if there is a pattern in natural individual cow lying behaviour. If this individual pattern in lying behaviour in the pasture is not possible in a cubicle housing system, improving and adjusting this system is an option.
During five weeks four different herds were observed by two observers. The observations took place by scan sampling, through binoculars. The observations were done between 3 and 4 hours after milking, when most of the cows were lying, so that was the best moment to start with the observations. Between observations the cows had to have moved, otherwise the same situation would be observed twice.
Most of the observed cows (2111 observations across four herds) prefer to lie in the N-S direction (55.5 %); this value differed from the expected 50 %. But there were important herd differences. Of a total of 2115 observations, cows show a clear preference for lying in the long resting position, 87.4%. Cows have needs for the other three resting positions, therefore they need enough lying space. No difference was observed between left and right side lying behaviour. Across all four groups (total of 2111 observations), 50.5% lie on their left side and 49.5% of the cows lie on their right side. After analysing the collected data, a relationship between cow laterality and magnetic alignment was found (P < 0.0001).
These results cannot prove that the modern cubicle housing system is not suitable to cow individual lying behaviour. Various internal and external factors are not excluded in this investigation. However, this study indicates that the cubicle system needs to be investigated further in this respect.||