Behavioral sampling techniques for feedlot cattle

F. M. Mitlöhner, J. L. Morrow-Tesch, S. C. Wilson, J. W. Dailey, J. J. McGlone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Continuous observations are an accurate method for behavioral measurements but are difficult to conduct on large numbers of animals because of extensive labor requirements. Thus, we sought to develop methods of behavioral data collection in feedlot cattle production systems that reasonably approximated continuous sampling. Standing, lying, feeding, drinking, and walking behaviors were examined from 224 h of continuous video from 64 heifers. Experiment 1 (n = 24 heifers) compared continuous behavioral sampling techniques (Continuous) with scan sampling using intervals of 1, 5, 10, 15, 30, and 60 min and time sampling (a technique for the periodic recording of behavior) for the first 10 min out of every 60 min. Means for each scan sampling method did not differ in estimated percentage of duration of behaviors (P > 0.05) from continuous sampling, except for scan sampling with a 60-min interval. Scan sampling with a 60-min interval differed from more frequent scan sampling intervals for all behaviors except lying. Scan sampling with short intervals (1 and 5 min) was correlated highly with Continuous for all behaviors. The longer the scan interval, the lower the correlations, especially for behaviors with short duration. Time sampling was not an accurate technique for measuring the sampled behaviors. Focal animal sampling (using continuous sampling of individuals) indicated that one heifer was representative of the entire pen of 10 animals (Continuous) for all maintenance behaviors except drinking. Scan sampling methods (1-, 5-, 10-, and 15-min intervals) were accurate methods of behavioral sampling for feedlot cattle, but scan intervals of 30 or 60 min were less accurate and less precise. Time sampling was not an accurate method because it overestimated standing and underestimated lying behaviors. Experiment 2 (n = 40 heifers) investigated the number of focal animals required to accurately represent continuous behavioral sampling for all animals. Focal animal sampling was accurate for most behaviors using as few as 1 animal out of 10 but was not an accurate method for drinking behavior unless 40% of the animals in the pen were observed. Estimates of sample sizes needed for experimental protocols are provided. Behavioral means, standard deviations, and coefficients of variation are presented along with estimates of required sample sizes. These results validate accurate, precise, and efficient methods for quantifying feedlot cattle behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1193
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2001


  • Behavior
  • Cattle
  • Feedlots
  • Sampling Techniques


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