open access publication

Article, 2023

Cow characteristics associated with the variation in number of contacts between dairy cows

In: Journal of Dairy Science, ISSN 0022-0302, 1525-3198, Volume 106, 4, Pages 2685-2699, 10.3168/jds.2022-21915

Contributors (8)

Hansson, I (0000-0001-7877-4135) [1] Silvera, Anna Maria [1] Ren, Keni [1] Woudstra, Svenja (0000-0003-4668-1799) [2] Skarin, Anna (0000-0003-3221-1024) [1] Fikse, Willem Freddy (0000-0003-0578-0184) [1] Nielsen, Per Peetz (0000-0002-1359-2952) [3] Rönnegård, Lars (0000-0002-1057-5401) (Corresponding author) [1] [4]


  1. [1] Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  2. [NORA names: Sweden; Europe, EU; Nordic; OECD]
  3. [2] University of Copenhagen
  4. [NORA names: KU University of Copenhagen; University; Denmark; Europe, EU; Nordic; OECD]
  5. [3] RISE Research Institute of Sweden, Division of Bioeconomy and Health, Department of Agriculture and Food, RISE Ideon, SE-223 70 Lund, Sweden
  6. [4] Dalarna University
  7. [NORA names: Sweden; Europe, EU; Nordic; OECD]


In modern freestall barns where large groups of cows are housed together, the behavior displayed by herd mates can influence the welfare and production of other individuals. Therefore, understanding social interactions in groups of dairy cows is important to enhance herd management and optimize the outcomes of both animal health and welfare in the future. Many factors can affect the number of social contacts in a group. This study aimed to identify which characteristics of a cow are associated with the number of contacts it has with other group members in 2 different functional areas (feeding and resting area) to increase our understanding of the social behavior of dairy cows. Inside 2 herds housed in freestall barns with around 200 lactating cows each, cow positions were recorded with an ultra-wideband real-time location system collecting all cows' positions every second over 2 wk. Using the positioning data of the cows, we quantified the number of contacts between them, assuming that cows spending time in proximity to one another (within a distance of 2.5 m for at least 10 min per day) were interacting socially. We documented in which barn areas these interactions occurred and used linear mixed models to investigate if lactation stage, parity, breed, pregnancy status, estrus, udder health, and claw health affect the number of contacts. We found variation in the number of contacts a cow had between individuals in both functional areas. Cows in later lactation had more contacts in the feeding area than cows in early lactation. Furthermore, in one herd, higher parity cows had fewer contacts in the feeding area than first parity cows, and in the other herd, cows in third parity or higher had more contacts in the resting area. This study indicates that cow characteristics such as parity and days in milk are associated with the number of contacts a cow has daily to its herd mates and provides useful information for further research on social interactions of dairy cows.


animal health, area, barn, behavior, breeds, characteristics, claw health, contact, cow characteristics, cow position, cows, dairy cows, data, days, different functional areas, early lactation, estrus, factors, feeding areas, first-parity cows, freestall barn, functional areas, further research, future, group, group members, health, herd management, herd mates, herds, high-parity cows, individuals, information, interaction, lactating cows, lactation, lactation stage, large group, late lactation, linear mixed models, location system, management, mates, members, milk, mixed models, model, more contact, number, number of contacts, outcomes, parity, parity cows, position, pregnancy status, production, proximity, real-time location system, research, social behavior, social contact, social interaction, stage, status, study, system, third parity, time, udder health, understanding, useful information, variation, welfare, wk


  • Swedish Research Council
  • Swedish Research Council for Environment Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning