Many cows nowadays are housed exclusively indoors with fewer than 5% of the 10 million lactating cows in the United States having access to pasture during the grazing season. Although indoor housing systems are made to meet the needs of the cows, surveys of public and farmer opinion suggest that people think that pasture access is also important for the well-being of dairy cows. And these cows want to break the cycle and roam free in the fields as new research from the University of British Columbia suggests.
The study, published in Scientific Reports,
wanted to measure “to what extent cows will work to access pasture (by pushing on a weighted gate), and compared it to the motivation to access fresh feed.” Results showed that the dairy cows worked hard to go outside- showing a stronger preference to access pasture at night- as much as pushing their access to their regular feed when kept indoors.
"Our findings show cows are highly motivated to be outside," said Marina von Keyserlingk, the study's lead author and an animal welfare professor in UBC's faculty of land and food systems. They said in their study, “We had expected pasture to be valuable to the cows, but not as valuable as access to the fresh feed, but instead found no difference in motivation to access the two resources.” The researchers said their findings support previous research that found public and farmer opinion of a good life for cattle involves outdoor grazing access.
She said that many dairy cows in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world are housed exclusively indoors. And as much as how indoor housing meets cow's basic needs for food, water, hygiene and shelter, it’s still taking a toll on their complete freedom.
"Improving the cow's quality of life is obviously important for the animal, but it's also important for the people involved, including the farmers that care for them and the consumers who buy dairy products," said Dan Weary ,co-author and UBC animal welfare professor.