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Article

A Preliminary Investigation of Social Network Analysis Applied to Dairy Cow Behavior in Automatic Milking System Environments

1
Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
2
Department of Statistical Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
3
Biological and Systems Engineering Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Nicolas Gengler
Animals 2021, 11(5), 1229; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051229
Received: 19 March 2021 / Revised: 20 April 2021 / Accepted: 23 April 2021 / Published: 24 April 2021
(This article belongs to the Collection Smart Farming in Dairy Production)
Cows are social animals, therefore understanding the ways that they interact can help improve their management and welfare. We used social network analysis (SNA) to data on voluntary cow movement through a sort gate in an automatic milking system to identify pairs of cows that repeatedly passed through a sort gate in close succession (affinity pairs). Results from this exploratory study showed that when cows were separated from their affinity-pair cow the day-day variability in milk production increased by a factor of 3, a possible indicator of stress. The results of this exploratory study suggest that SNA could be used as a tool to better understand the social dynamics of dairy cows and inform group and regrouping process to produce positive outcomes.
We have applied social network analysis (SNA) to data on voluntary cow movement through a sort gate in an automatic milking system to identify pairs of cows that repeatedly passed through a sort gate in close succession (affinity pairs). The SNA was applied to social groups defined by four pens on a dairy farm, each served by an automatic milking system (AMS). Each pen was equipped with an automatic sorting gate that identified when cows voluntarily moved from the resting area to either milking or feeding areas. The aim of this study was two-fold: to determine if SNA could identify affinity pairs and to determine if milk production was affected when affinity pairs where broken. Cow traffic and milking performance data from a commercial guided-flow AMS dairy farm were used. Average number of milked cows was 214 ± 34, distributed in four AMS over 1 year. The SNA was able to identify clear affinity pairs and showed when these pairings were formed and broken as cows entered and left the social group (pen). The trend in all four pens was toward higher-than-expected milk production during periods of affinity. Moreover, we found that when affinities were broken (separation of cow pairs) the day-to-day variability in milk production was three times higher than for cows in an affinity pair. The results of this exploratory study suggest that SNA could be potentially used as a tool to reduce milk yield variation and better understand the social dynamics of dairy cows supporting management and welfare decisions. View Full-Text
Keywords: cow management; cow behavior; affinities cow management; cow behavior; affinities
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MDPI and ACS Style

Fadul-Pacheco, L.; Liou, M.; Reinemann, D.J.; Cabrera, V.E. A Preliminary Investigation of Social Network Analysis Applied to Dairy Cow Behavior in Automatic Milking System Environments. Animals 2021, 11, 1229. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051229

AMA Style

Fadul-Pacheco L, Liou M, Reinemann DJ, Cabrera VE. A Preliminary Investigation of Social Network Analysis Applied to Dairy Cow Behavior in Automatic Milking System Environments. Animals. 2021; 11(5):1229. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051229

Chicago/Turabian Style

Fadul-Pacheco, Liliana, Michael Liou, Douglas J. Reinemann, and Victor E. Cabrera. 2021. "A Preliminary Investigation of Social Network Analysis Applied to Dairy Cow Behavior in Automatic Milking System Environments" Animals 11, no. 5: 1229. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051229

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