oa Agriprobe - The effects of free stall design and free stall surface material on the behaviour of lactating Holstein cows : journal

Volume 10, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1810-9799



Economic pressure has caused dairy farmers in the Western Cape to expand their herds. This is recently being done by using intensive free stall housing systems providing protection against summer heat and wet winter conditions. The design and management of free stalls affect the welfare of cows as stalls could be under-utilized resulting in cows standing longer per day or cows could be injured when getting up or lying down. In this study the behaviour of cows was determined by using a closed circuit camera over consecutive 24-hour periods. Two experiments were conducted to determine the effect of lunging space (with and without a wall in front of the stalls) and free stall bedding material (sand vs. foam mats) on the behaviour of cows. Cows spend more time lying-down in stalls without a wall at the front-end of the free stall in comparison to stalls with a wall in front reducing lunging space. This resulted in a shorter standing time for cows with access to stalls with more lunging space possibly improving the welfare of cows. The occupancy rate of stalls with more lunging space was higher over a 24-hour period, 47.3 vs. 41.7%. Cows with access to sand-filled stalls were lying down longer than cows with access to stalls with foam mats. This has resulted in cows standing for a longer period over a 24-hour period which reduces the welfare of cows. However, at the end of the experiment when the cows were given a free choice, some cows chose the foam mats above the sand bedding while also showing a preference for specific stalls. Cows using stalls with foam mats were lying down for a shorter period than cows using sand-filled stalls. They would rise more often and were only lying down for short periods at a time. From this it seems that cows were not used to using stalls with foam mats. The two experiments showed that cows demonstrated a preference for stalls with more lunging space and sand bedding instead of mattresses.

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