Freestall bedding levels and cow comfort

Maintaining sand levels in freestalls is one management technique with a clear impact on both cow comfort and milk production. When cows spend more time lying down, they produce more milk.

Cow comfort is widely recognized as an important influence on a cow’s capacity to produce milk. Freestall management and bedding levels in particular, can have a significant effect on the comfort of cows as well as freestall associated lying behavior. Dairy cows housed in freestall barns normally spend between 8 and 16 hours per day lying in stalls. Blood flow to the mammary gland increases around 25 percent when cows are lying down as opposed to standing. This increase in blood flow to the mammary gland provides an increase in precursors for the synthesis of milk components in the gland. More time spent lying down also can lead to greater cud chewing and decreased lameness.

In a series of experiments, researchers in Canada examined changes in freestall bedding parameters over time as well as associated changes in cow behavior.

Their findings suggest that keeping bedding level with the freestall curb can increase the amount of time cows spend lying down, with benefits also possible for cow comfort and milk production.

Cows spent fewer hours per day lying in freestalls when the level of the sand surface was below the curb versus stalls that were filled with sand to a level that was even with the curb. The number of lying bouts did not differ between treatments but duration of lying bouts decreased as the distance from the top of the curb to the sand surface increased. It was further noted that for each 1-inch decrease in sand level below curb height, cows spent 28 fewer minutes lying in freestalls.

This series of experiments identified specifically how sand levels in freestalls decrease over time and by use. In addition it was demonstrated that cows spent less time lying in freestalls as the distance between the top of the curb and the sand surface increased. The authors speculate that decreased lying time may be indicative of cow discomfort associated with freestall bedding levels. A reduction in lying time of 2.3 hours per day out of an expected range of 8 to 16 hours per day may be indicative of suboptimal cow comfort.

The observed 2.3 hour reduction in lying time per day resulted from an increase in distance between the top of the curb and the sand surface of only 5.4 inches. It may be beneficial to take a closer look at the levels of bedding in your dairy’s freestalls and ensure routine maintenance of sand freestall beds.

View this article at the Michigan Dairy Review web site.

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