In a recent report by the Humane Society of the United States, tiestall housing was included on a recent list of factors affecting the welfare of dairy cows. The restrictive nature of this type of housing is the main reason that it’s an area of interest. Two recent studies, one in the Journal of Dairy Science and one in Preventative Veterinary Medicine, focused on ways to improve the cow comfort of tiestall barns.
First, in a series of three experiments, researchers from the University of California at Davis, the University of British Columbia and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada investigated the effect that various amounts of sawdust or straw bedding can have on lying behavior. All experiments involved 12 cows, a mix of mature cows and heifers, housed in a tiestall facility. The cows were milked twice daily, fed once daily in the morning and released for 1.5 hours of exercise once daily.
In the first experiment the cows were provided approximately 7, 20, 33 or 52 pounds of sawdust bedding per day. Increasing the amount of bedding did not alter the duration of lying bouts, the number of bouts per day, or milk production. The average lying time per day was increased by 1.1 hours per day by increasing the bedding amounts.
In Experiment 2, cows were provided 2.2, 7, 11 or 20 pounds of straw bedding per day. Similar to Experiment 1, the amount of bedding did not affect average duration of a lying bout or milk production; however, the number of lying bouts per day and the average daily lying time increased as the amount of bedding increased.
In Experiment 3, 1.1, 2.2, 4.4 or 6.6 pounds of straw bedding were provided. The authors described this as an insufficient amount of bedding to cover the base of the stall at all treatment levels. In this experiment, none of the four response variables were affected by the treatment. Across all experiments, the compressibility of the bedding increased as the amount of bedding increased.
The second study was conducted by researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The treatments in this study consisted of the inclusion of two different styles of stall partition. The partitions consisted of a nylon strap that either extended straight down to an attachment point on the floor or attached to the floor in an inverted Y-shape. Measurements included stall cleanliness (defined as the cross-contamination of a stall by the neighboring cow’s urine or manure), lying position and total lying time relative to stalls containing no partition.
The inclusion of the partition reduced the number of times a cow defecated in their neighbor’s stall, but did not affect the number of times a cow urinated in their neighbor’s stall. Cows with partitions spent less time standing at a 45° angle to the feedbunk than those without. Mean daily lying time was unaffected.
—Excerpts from Institute Farm Report, February 2010