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Cubicle design and the comfort of dairy cows

INRA Prod Anim 27(5) 359-368

P. CAZIN, B. NICKS, I. DUFRASNE

Université de Liège, Faculté de Médecine vétérinaire, Département des Productions Animales, boulevard de Colonster, B43, B-4000 Liège, Belgique

Abstract

Cubicle housing offers a good compromise between the needs of the animals and those of the breeders; it is one of the main housing systems for dairy cows. The recommendations relative to the design and management of cubicle housing are, however, always subject to revision. Special attention is now being given to the improvement of animal comfort, particularly with regards to the lying cow. In this context, the level of comfort is estimated by the duration of the lying time, the frequency of the lying bouts and the ease with which cows are able to get up and lie down. The level of cow comfort is in direct relation to the softness of the floor, to the cubicle dimensions, and to the design of the lateral and frontal partitions. A soft floor can be assured through the use of either multilayer mattresses or a thick litter. Mattresses must be covered with a litter material that absorbs surface moisture and helps to ensure the cleanliness of the stall and udder. To achieve these objectives, the nature of the litter material (straw, sawdust, sand, lime, etc.) appears to be less important than the frequency of renewal. Cubicle floors covered with a thick layer (± 20 cm) of litter seem generally better appreciated by the cows than those equipped with mattresses, and their use is associated with a lower frequency of leg injuries as well as lameness. Sand appears to be a top-grade material for ensuring animal comfort. Nevertheless, the maintenance of a thick layer of litter demands an extra daily labor requirement and the handling of sand as a litter material requires specific equipment. There is a wide range of recommendations on cubicle dimensions due to differences in cow size and the need to take into account the cleanliness of the floor. Lateral partitions must be evaluated for their effectiveness in constraining the animal from spilling out into the neighboring cubicles while at the same time avoiding both injury and difficulties experienced by the cow in getting up and lying down.
Finally, frontal partitions must be evaluated regarding their effectiveness in providing sufficient space to allow the cow to thrust its head forward as it stands up.

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