The objective of this cross-sectional study was to investigate the association between stall surface and some animal welfare measurements in upper Midwest US dairy operations using recycled manure solids as bedding material. The study included 34 dairy operations with herd sizes ranging from 130 to 3,700 lactating cows. Forty-five percent of the herds had mattresses and 55% had deep-bedded stalls. Farms were visited once between July and October 2009. At the time of visit, at least 50% of the cows in each lactating pen were scored for locomotion, hygiene, and hock lesions. On-farm herd records were collected for the entire year and used to investigate mortality, culling, milk production, and mastitis incidence. Stall surface was associated with lameness and hock lesion prevalence. Lameness prevalence (locomotion score ≥3 on a 1 to 5 scale) was lower in deep-bedded freestalls (14.4%) than freestalls with mattresses (19.8%). Severe lameness prevalence (locomotion score ≥4) was also lower for cows housed in deep-bedded freestalls (3.6%) than for cows housed in freestalls with mattresses (5.9%). In addition, the prevalence of hock lesions (hock lesion scores ≥2 on a 1 to 3 scale, with 1 = no lesion, 2 = hair loss or mild lesion, and 3 = swelling or severe lesion) and severe hock lesions (hock lesion score = 3) was lower in herds with deep-bedded freestalls (49.4%; 6.4%) than in herds with mattresses (67.3%; 13.2%). Herd turnover rates were not associated with stall surface; however, the percentage of removals due to voluntary (low milk production, disposition, and dairy) and involuntary (death, illness, injury, and reproductive) reasons was different between deep-bedded and mattress-based freestalls. Voluntary removals averaged 16% of all herd removals in deep-bedded herds, whereas in mattress herds, these removals were 8%. Other welfare measurements such as cow hygiene, mortality rate, mastitis incidence, and milk production were not associated with stall surface.
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We thank the dairy producers who participated in this study and the extension educators and industry representatives who helped identify cooperator farms. We also thank Mark Kinsel (AgriMetrica LLC, Ellensburg, WA) for providing us with the handheld personal computer software used to collect locomotion, hock lesion, and hygiene scores. We also thank AgSource Cooperative Services (Menomonie, WI) and Dairy Records Management Systems (DRMS, Raleigh, NC) for access to DHIA data for some farms and the milk processors for access to daily bulk tank data. This project was funded by the University of Minnesota Rapid Agricultural Response Fund.
- Recycled manure solids
- Stall surface