Benchmarking cow comfort on North American freestall dairies: Lameness, leg injuries, lying time, facility design, and management for high-producing Holstein dairy cows

By Barrientos, A. and Galo, E. and Ito, K. and von Keyserlingk, M. A. G. and Weary, D. M., Journal of Dairy Science, 2012
In this paper, we describe a novel approach to corporate involvement in on-farm assessment, driven by the desire to provide a service for dairy producers and to create a vehicle for engagement on issues of dairy cow welfare. This program provides producers with feedback on animal-based (including gait score, leg injuries, and lying time) and facility-based (including freestall design, bedding practices, feed bunk design and management, and stocking density) measures that can be used to better address their management goals. The aim of this paper is to describe variation in the prevalence of lameness and leg injuries, lying behavior, facility design, and management practices for high-producing cows on freestall dairy farms in 3 regions of North America: British Columbia (BC; n = 42); California (CA; n = 39); and the northeastern United States (NE-US; n = 40). Prevalence of clinical lameness averaged (mean ± SD) 27.9 ± 14.1% in BC, 30.8 ± 15.5% in CA, and 54.8 ± 16.7% in NE-US; prevalence of severe lameness averaged 7.1 ± 5.4% in BC, 3.6 ± 4.2% in CA, and 8.2 ± 5.6% in NE-US. Overall prevalence of hock injuries was 42.3 ± 26.2% in BC, 56.2 ± 21.6% in CA, and 81.2 ± 22.5% in NE-US; prevalence of severe injuries was 3.7 ± 5.2% in BC, 1.8 ± 3.1% in CA, 5.4 ± 5.9% in NE-US. Prevalence of swollen knees was minimal in CA (0.3 ± 0.6%) but high (23.1 ± 16.3%) in NE-US (not scored in BC). Lying times were similar across regions (11.0 ± 0.7 h/d in BC, 10.4 ± 0.8 h/d in CA, 10.6 ± 0.9 h/d in NE-US), but individual lying times among cows assessed varied (4.2 to 19.5 h/d, 3.7 to 17.5 h/d, and 2.8 to 20.5 h/d in BC, CA, and NE-US, respectively). These results showed considerable variation in lameness and leg injury prevalence as well as facility design and management among freestall farms in North America. Each of the 3 regions had farms with a very low prevalence of lameness and injuries, suggesting great opportunities for improvement on other farms within the region.
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