The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of feeding strategy on the performance of oral stereotypies, such as tongue-rolling and bar-biting, and other behaviours in lactating dairy cows. Thirty–seven cows of the Swedish Red and Wliite breed were randomly assigned into three treatments with different feeding strategies. Cows in treatment (AL) were given food ad libitum during the whole experimental period, which lasted from weeks 3 to 26 post partum. The second group (AL–R) was given food ad libitum during weeks 3 to 14 post partum, thereafter they were given food at a restricted level. The third group (R) was given food at a restricted level during the whole experiment period. All cows were offered a total mixed ration consisting of 650 g concentrate and 350 g forage per kg twice a day and their individual daily food intakes were registered. Behavioural recordings were made for 4 h on a fixed day every 2nd week, where each individual cow was observed every 2nd minute.
During the complete experimental period, 27 out of the 37 cows showed stereotypies; 13 cows in group R, 10 in group AL–R and four in the AL group. The proportions of cows showing stereotypies were not independent of feeding treatment within the respective periods (P < 0·01). The stereotypy levels, counted as the mean frequency of recordings per treatment period, increased significantly between period 1 (lactation weeks 3 to 14) and period 2 (weeks 17 to 26) in group AL–R (P < 0·01) and in group R(P < 0·01), but not in the AL group. In period 2 the R cows had significantly higher stereotypy levels than the cows in the AL–R group (P < 0·01). Group R decreased the time spent eating between the periods (P < 0·001), with the same tendency in group AL–R. The AL group had longer eating time in period 2 than the AL–R (P < 0–001) and the R (P < 0·001) cows. The AL cows had a higher frequency of rumination than the other treatments in period 2 (P < 0·01). Both the AL–R and the R cows increased their activity levels between the periods (P < 0·001 for both). There were also differences between treatments in period 2, where the AL cows were less active than the AL–R (P < 0·05) and the R cows (P < 0·01).
It is concluded that oral stereotypies in dairy cows are highly affected by feeding strategy, where restrictive feeding of a mixed food induces significant increases of stereotypies. The results of this investigation clearly indicate that restricted feeding of a diet with high levels of concentrate has a negative effect on the well being of lactating cows.