Cubicle housing systems for cattle: Comfort of dairy cows depends on cubicle adjustment

By Capdeville, J. and Delval, E. and Veissier, I., Journal of Animal Science, 2004
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Housing is important for the welfare of cows. Although recommendations have been proposed, abnormal movements and injury problems are still observed in cubicle houses. We conducted a survey on 70 French dairy farms that used cubicles. We examined the design of the cubicles, and the behavior, injuries, and cleanliness of the cows. Most of the cubicles did not comply with the recommendations, often being too narrow and/or too short. Difficulties in lying behavior and injuries were more common when the neck rail was high. No improvement was noted when cubicles of a recent design were used ("U.S." cubicles), apparently because these cubicles were most often cantilevered on a double head rail rather than fixed on freestanding posts. An experiment was conducted, making similar measurements, on 84 cows to compare two configurations for U.S. cubicles (cantilevered on a double head rail as observed in the survey with a high and rear neck rail vs. fixed on freestanding posts as recommended) and another recent cubicle type (Euroconfort, cantilevered on head rails, but with a large space between the rails and fixed as recommended), with and without a brisket board. In U.S. cubicles on rails, cows spent more time lying and less time fully standing inside the cubicles than in the other cubicles (percentage of time: lying, 53.9 vs. 51.5; fully standing, 7.3 vs. 8.5); in Euroconfort cubicles, they hit bars more often when getting up than in U.S. Cubicles (percentage of observations: 42.4 vs. 26.4. Without a brisket board, cows lay down more often in a fore position in U.S. cubicles than in Euroconfort ones. Somatic cell counts increased with time in U.S. cubicles on rails and decreased in the other cubicles. It is suggested that the position of the neck rail in U.S. cubicles cantilevered on rails did not leave enough space for the cow to stand inside the cubicle, thereby encouraging the cow to lie down. This could in turn favor udder contamination and/or inflammation. It is concluded that the positioning of the neck rail is of prime importance, that U.S. cubicles should be used with a brisket board and with correct positioning of the neck rail (even when a head rail is used), and that leaving a large space between head rails does not offer an adequate remedial solution for keeping a free head space in front of the cubicle.
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