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Feeding behavior traits may be an indicator of feed efficiency in Holstein cows

Philadelphia | September 28, 2022

New research in the Journal of Dairy Science® shows a slower eating rate is correlated with feed efficiency

Genetic selection is a powerful tool to improve livestock production, given that genetic gains are cumulative and permanent, and feeding behavior in cows may be used as an indicated trait for feed efficiency. In a new report(opens in new tab/window) in the Journal of Dairy Science®(opens in new tab/window), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier, eight researchers from the University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI), Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (Bowie, MD), and Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI) concluded that measures of feeding behavior could be useful indicators of dairy cow feed efficiency, and individual cows that eat at a slower rate may be more feed efficient.

Due to the lack of feeding behavior genetic studies in lactating dairy cattle and the potential for using these traits as indicators of feed efficiency, the objective of this study was to investigate different feeding behavior traits and their genetic associations with feed efficiency traits in lactating US Holstein cows. Researchers estimated genetic parameters for feeding behavior traits using daily records.

“Interestingly, some feeding behavior traits were strongly genetically correlated with feed efficiency,” said lead researcher Ligia Cavani, PhD, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, University of Wisconsin. The research team found that feeding rate showed a strong positive genetic correlation with dry matter intake, metabolic body weight, and residual feed intake in particular.

The researchers used data from daily feeding behavior records of 1,328 Holstein cows in 31 experiments conducted from 2009 to 2020 in a facility at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Emmons Blaine Dairy Cattle Research Center (Arlington, WI). The facility used an automated intake recording system, which permits one animal to access the feeder at a given time. The feeding behavior traits considered included number of feeder visits per day, number of meals per day, duration of each feeder visit, duration of each meal, total duration of feeder visits, intake per visit, intake per meal, feeding rate per visit, and feeding rate per meal.

“Overall, our results suggest that measures of feeding behavior could be useful indicators of dairy cow feed efficiency and that individual cows that eat at a slower rate may be more feed efficient,” said Cavani.

Holstein cows

New research on Holstein cows finds that measures of feeding behavior could be useful indicators of dairy cow feed efficiency, and cows that eat at a slower rate may be more feed efficient (Credit: Ken Olson, PhD, PAS).


Notes for editors

About the Journal of Dairy Science

The Journal of Dairy Science(opens in new tab/window)® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2021 Journal Impact Factor of 4.225 and five-year Journal Impact Factor of 4.987 according to Journal Citation Reports™ (Source: Clarivate™ 2022). 

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®)

The American Dairy Science Association(opens in new tab/window) (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world's population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.

About FASS Inc.

Since 1998, FASS(opens in new tab/window) has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified ( in new tab/window)) technical editors and experienced composition staff. 

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundation(opens in new tab/window), we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELX(opens in new tab/window), a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit



Eileen Leahy


+1 732 238 3628

E-mail Eileen Leahy


Ken Olson, PhD, PAS

American Dairy Science Association

+1 630 237 4961

E-mail Ken Olson, PhD, PAS