Heat stress plays a role in livestock production in warm climates. Heat stress conditions impair animal welfare and compromise the productive and reproductive performance of dairy cattle. Under heat stress conditions, dairy cattle modify their behavior. Thus, the assessment of behavior alterations can be an indicator of environmental or physiological anomalies. Moreover, precision livestock farming allows for the individual and constant monitoring of animal behavior, arising as a tool to assess animal welfare. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of heat stress on the behavior of dairy cows using activity sensors. The study was carried out in Tinajeros (Albacete, Spain) during the summer of 2020. Activity sensors were installed in 40 cows registering 6 different behaviors. Environmental conditions (temperature and humidity) were also monitored. Hourly data was calculated for both animal behavior and environmental conditions. Temperature and Heat Index (THI) was calculated for each hour. The accumulated THI during the previous 24 h period was determined for each hour, and the hours were statistically classified in quartiles according to the accumulated THI. Two groups were defined as Q4 for no stress and Q1 for heat stress. The results showed that animal behavior was altered under heat stress conditions. Increasing THI produces an increase in general activity, changes in feeding patterns and a decrease in rumination and resting behaviors, which is detrimental to animal welfare. Daily behavioral patterns were also affected. Under heat stress conditions, a reduction in resting behavior during the warmest hours and in rumination during the night was observed. In conclusion, heat stress affected all behaviors recorded as well as the daily patterns of the cows. Precision livestock farming sensors and the modelling of daily patterns were useful tools for monitoring animal behavior and detecting changes due to heat stress.
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