Flooring in Front of the Feed Bunk Affects Feeding Behavior and Use of Freestalls by Dairy Cows

By Campbell, B. and de Passille, A. M. and Rushen, J. and Tucker, C. B. and Weary, D. M., J Dairy Sci, 2006
In 2 experiments we assessed how preferences, time budgets, and feeding behavior of dairy cows change in response to flooring surfaces in front of the feed bunk. In Experiment 1, 12 nonlactating dairy cattle were individually housed with access to 2 standing platforms filled with either concrete or sawdust. In Experiment 2, 24 nonlactating dairy cattle were given access to either concrete or Animat rubber flooring in front of the feed bunk. In Experiment 1, cows preferred the sawdust to the concrete flooring. In both experiments, cows provided with a softer floor in front of the feed bunk spent more time standing near the feed bunk without eating (Experiment 1: 67 vs. 40 min/d on sawdust vs. concrete, respectively, SEM = 5.6 min/d; Experiment 2: 176 vs. 115 min/d on Animat vs. concrete, respectively, SEM = 20.5 min/d) compared with when they were kept on concrete. The increased time spent at the feed bunk was due to a combination of more frequent eating and standing bouts, indicating that cows were more willing to move on nonconcrete flooring. Total time spent eating was significantly greater on the softer floor in Experiment 2, but not in Experiment 1 (Exp. 1: 289 vs. 275 min/d on sawdust and concrete, respectively, SEM = 7.3 min/d; Exp. 2: 330 vs. 289 min/d on Animat and concrete, respectively, SEM = 15.4), although feed intake was increased on the sawdust treatment in Experiment 1. Cows spent significantly more time lying in the feed alley when the flooring was rubber (219 vs. 53 min/d on Animat and concrete, SEM = 53.6 min/d), perhaps because the lying area in Experiment 2 was inadequate. In conclusion, cows prefer to stand on softer flooring in front of the feed bunk, and are more willing to move on and spend more time standing in front of the feed bunk when provided with softer flooring. These results indicate that cows find softer flooring surfaces more comfortable to stand on than concrete, and highlight the importance of evaluating the comfort of the entire facility.
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