Case study: Why are these cows throwing roughage in the ally?

In some herds, it sometimes occurs that a few or several of the cows start to throw roughage into the ally. When they have this habit, it is very difficult to make them stop.

In the herd on these videos the throwing started several months ago. When they started the roughage was chopped, and much shorter, and it was not that dry. This roughage is from round bales, and there is not a mixer wagon at the farm.

What do you think is the reason for this behavior?
Do you have good suggestions about how to make this behavior stop?
Thank you for any tips.

Videos and case study by CowSignals master trainer Bengt Egil Elve in Norway.
We'll add our own thoughts later on in the comments section below.

Comments (14)


It may be a behaviour related to frustrated feeding behaviour? Especially this: 'When they started the roughage was chopped, and much shorter, and it was not that dry.' makes me think that. It may be that with every step from feed that is more different than what cows originally eat (i.e. grass on pasture), these behaviours become more prevalent. So, it may decrease with roughage that is not chopped so short. Is it only roughage or is there some concentrate in there too? If so, maybe try to decrease that amount. Or it may be the quality of the roughage?

Eastern Iowa

Cycles are everywhere in life - In order to change mindset, the chess pieces need to go back to their origin and positions, while respecting Black Angus, Red Angus, and/or Hybrids. The most challenging part of vision is forgiveness. Forgiveness is linked to understanding-both ways. What are you going to do to help? No mixer wagon - Save the ones you can. The next phase will require soldier mindset. Only the strong survive - Go watch Top Gun as a team.

Christine M. Røntved

Taste? Have you tested the same rouhage on cows in another farm? If so - what happened?

Where do I sign

This cow sees the gate opening for all the cows. There's enough bunk space for all the current cows and will do its best to lead them to the bunk. And the hay will stay there. This cow doesn't need any more shots, but could use a 12 oz mineral water.

Joep Driessen

In general, these can be causes for this behaviour:
- Irritation by feed fence
- Long fiber
- Fungus or bad taste of feed
- Too short or lack of fiber??
- Flies
- Other mosquitos
- Bad habit
- Bored( lack of people contact or other stimulus)

Jan Hulsen

I think a main reason for this behavior to start, is feeding of long hay or -especially- grass silage that the cows need to shake out after they have taken a bite or want to shake out. They shake it in order to get only a small amount of it in their mouth, or in order to select the silage out or the feed mix. The prevention consists of cutting the grass silage short: go for 4-5 cm fiber length and make a very good feed mix.

Cows mimic each other’s behavior, which for me is a reason that in herds you often see more than one cow showing this behavior. All animals in the herd eat the same ration and the cows mimic their behavior.

When a cow has developed this behavior, it will be very difficult to make her stop. The behavior should fade out: it should be unrewarding or impossible for the animal to throw feed for a very long period (months, or perhaps the rest of her life…). So the farmer must feed a well-mixed ration with fibers shorter than 6 cm, for months in a row. Or better: always.

Again prevention is the clue: always feed a well-mixed ration with fibers shorter than 6 cm. I am not aware of this behavior starting with young stock, but I think it should be ruled out on farms with this problem.

Perhaps there are other reasons for this behavior to start, that I am not (yet?) aware of...

Good luck!


Agreed - I was struggling as a farmer a few years back and I had neighbors kind enough to help me out. I'm not sure I could put a price tag on that. I had lunch once a month with one to learn from each other. (Great farming mentor) Another farmer down south tought me the importance of record keeping and having an agenda each day. And to the west, his cows are extremely loyal. I've never forgotten that and I'd like the opportunity to repay those debts. Also, I'd like to call those neighbor kids - friends. One specificly is more skilled that anybody I've seen at that age. Extremely impressive young man.

I make emotional decisions like everybody else and I'll listen to any suggestion when help is needed. I understand the position(protect the herd at all costs) Sometimes cows throw hay to protect strange as that sounds.

Cow Doc

Feed table height is a major contributing factor that has not been mentioned. The higher the feed table relative to where their feet are located, the more feed cows will throw over their backs. It has been recommended that the feed table not be more than 15cm higher than the feed alley where the cows stand.


I don't know the origin of this behaviour but there is definitly a apect of copying each others behaviour like Jan said. That is why we put the cow, who is trowing feed, a halter on with a little chain on it (30 cm). She stops throwing feed because the chain hurts. As soon as we put off the halter she starts again. Often the next lactation she does not show this behaviour again.


Is there flies in the barn biting the cows? Maybe they are throwing hay on their backs to help protect themselves from biting flies.

Mark Sterk

Cows are a bunch of a$$ holes. They do this just to waste good feed and $. They have all day to do such things. Jmo

Joep Driessen

Thanks for your thoughts everyone, great to read what you think!

Heather Maggs

Any one wondered whether they do it for fun?

Just a thought .....................

Bengt Egil Elve

Thank you for all the answers and good suggestoins. I think it is difficult to find the reason, epically since it started for several months ago.
There wasn’t many flies, or any other mosquitos. Perhaps it have become a bad habit know.
I was wondering if it could be a kind of stereotypic behavior? Perhaps due to lack of rumination or SARA?
In this barn there is a risk factor, you can see that the ally is very narrow, and there is only passages in the ends. If dominant cows stops and eat close to the ends, lover ranking cows hardly dear to pass them to get to a eating place by the feed table.

Make the silage shorter, and add some moist to make it more difficult to sort is a good advice, I think.
Make a passage to the feed table, from the middle of cubicles will perhaps make it easier for some cows to get to the feed table.

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