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Making dairy cow stall beds more comfortable

SPECIAL COVERAGE FROM THE AMERICAN DAIRY SCIENCE ASSN. ANNUAL MEETING: Study indicates cows with more bedding, especially those in long stalls, tend to be more comfortable.

Poor stall comfort impairs lying behavior and leads to injuries in dairy cattle. A study by S. McPherson and E. Vasseur of McGill University in Canada has examined how cow comfort might be maximized through the combined effect of three aspects of stall bed - stall length, manger wall height and bedding depth.

For the study, two rows of 12 tie-stalls were modified. Each row was a different length: short (178 cm; length commonly found in Quebec) or long (188 cm). Two manger wall treatments were applied randomly to the stalls in each row: high (20 cm, upper limit recommended) or low (5 cm). A 7.6 cm deep straw bedding layer was maintained by a bedding guard. Cows were randomly divided into four groups (n = six per group), blocked by parity (2.7 ± 0.32) and DIM (115 ± 13.2 days). Two groups were assigned to each row and subjected to both manger wall treatments in a crossover design (one week habituation, six week data collection per treatment). Lying behaviors were recorded continuously via leg-mounted accelerometers. Hock injury was scored one time per week and analyzed as a difference from baseline for each period.

Data were analyzed using a mixed model with length, sequence, block, treatment and period as fixed effects, week as a repeated measure and cow as a random effect. Cows in long stalls were found to spend more time lying (848.5 vs. 797.9 minutes per day; P < 0.05) and had longer lying bouts than cows in short stalls (74.1 vs. 52.9 min per bout; P < 0.05). Improvement in hock injury was observed from week one to six for all treatments (P ≤ 0.001, lateral tarsal; P ≤ 0.01, lateral calcanei).

The researcher said manger wall height did not affect injury or lying time. Higher lying times in their study were comparable to those reported in deep-bedded loose-pens, indicating that cows with more bedding, especially those in long stalls, were more comfortable.

The researchers reported their results at the American Dairy Science Assn. annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

TAGS: Dairy
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