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Behavior, Welfare & Nutrition in dairy cattle: Understanding the link (Trevor DeVries)

Behavior, Welfare & Nutrition in dairy cattle: Understanding the link Nutrinews International had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Trevor DeVries. Dr. DeVries is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behaviour and Welfare based in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. NutriNews International: Could give us a a brief background of your career path and on your current role at the University of Guelph? Trevor DeVries: As you previously said in my introduction, I am a professor with the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada, and hold a Canada research chair. Meaning means that a great portion of my time here at the University is devoted t research, and more specifically that research program is focused on dairy cattle and the intersection between dairy cow behavior and nutritional management. I have been in my position with the University of Guelph for 16 years now, and prior to that I studied in western Canada where I obtained my bachelors and PhD at the University of British Columbia. Where I carried out research that was focused on dairy cow behavior, nutrition and nutritional management. During these 16 years within my academic role I have really expanded on that, and looked into different realms, using behavior as a metric to understand how dairy cows respond to nutrition, nutritional management, housing management, as well as assessing the interactions between production and animal health. Carrying out a lot of that work with dairy cows, but also with young animals including calves and heifers as well. NutriNews International: That sounds very interesting. Could you tell us how does feeding behavior of dairy cattle influence overall health and productivity, and why is it important to understand this from a productive standpoint? Trevor DeVries: That is a good question, and there is probably a lot that we can unpack thinking about that question from my perspective. First and foremost, the reason for which I am interested in feeding behavior, and why it is important from the cow’s perspective, has to do with the fact that feeding behavior dictates the amount of feed the animal consumes. When we are thinking of dairy cows we are thinking about an animal that we keep for production purposes. We want that animal to produce a high amount of milk, but we also want it to do this efficiently and in a healthy manner. When we think about milk yield, one of the limiting factors is the amount of nutrients that animal can consume and convert into milk. Therefore, when we are considering the amount of nutrients, and the dry matter intake levels of that animal, these are inherently dictated by how that cow eats. If that cow needs to eat more, she needs to change the way she eats. Hence, she needs to: eat more meals per day, consume bigger meals, eat faster, spend more time eating, or some combination of these. Our research has looked into this, and we have spent quite some time looking into those factors that can be influential. When we are evaluating the response of cows towards diets and management practices, we are often assessing if these factors promote feeding patterns that are associated with greater intake. So, having more meals per day, not eating as fast and being able to spend more time at the feed bunk, are factors that have been correlated with greater feed intake. The other side of it, is that we also know that feed intake patterns, can influence the health of the animal, and the efficiency with which that animal works so to speak….  

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