This study, which was made at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, investigated the effects of rubber alley flooring on cow locomotion, claw and leg health, production, cleanliness, grooming behaviour and cow exclusion rate in a free stall herd.
This study investigated the effects of rubber alley flooring on cow locomotion, claw and leg health, production, cleanliness, grooming behaviour and cow exclusion rate in a free stall herd. The study was conducted in a new dairy house with a rotary milking system, with a matched group of cows on traditional scraped concrete alleys used for comparison. All claws were trimmed and lesions recorded at the beginning and end of the 4-month study. Locomotion, claw and leg health, behaviour and hygiene were observed and scored at regular intervals during the study. The results showed that cows on rubber alley floors displayed significantly (p<0.001) less lameness than cows housed on concrete. By the end of the study, the risk of disturbed locomotion was at least threefold higher in cows kept on concrete than in those on rubber floors. The results also revealed a negative effect of claw trimming on cow locomotion, with cows in both groups having a higher locomotion score (indicating more severe lameness) after trimming than before. Two out of five cows improved their locomotion after being moved to the rubber floor group due to sore feet. Cows on rubber floors had more heel horn erosion (x2; p<0.001), but the majority was of a mild form. Only sole ulcers had a slight tendency to affect locomotion. Hair loss on the hocks was the most common hock injury in both groups and, together with hock ulcers, was more common in the cows on concrete. All cows became cleaner during the study period, but cleanliness did not differ between the two treatments. Social grooming behaviour was significantly more common in the cows on rubber (x2;p<0.05), but milk production was not affected by flooring, possibly owing to differences in feeding systems. The number of excluded cows was greater in the concrete group, mainly owing to thin soles.
Dairy farming is a worldwide business. To achieve sustainable milk production, especially in herds with intensive production and high milk yield per cow, careful management is of the utmost importance in ensuring wellbeing, health and longevity. The free stall system is designed to improve the wellbeing and natural behaviour of cows and to reduce the labour costs per cow. Unfortunately, technical solutions of this type also involve compromises with animal health, such as claw and leg disorders. Due to an increased ability to move around (compared with tie stall systems), the animals´ claws and legs are exposed to more challenges such as contagious agents, traumatic injuries and slippery floors. There is shocking information that mortality figures are increasing in free stall systems. Cow mortality in Danish and Swedish dairy herds is about 5% (Thomsen & Sørensen, 2008) and lameness caused by claw and leg disorders is believed to be one of the main reasons for mortality (Thomsen et al., 2007; Christer Bergsten, personal communication 2011). The most critical period for the dairy cow´s health is the transition period. If the cow becomes ill in the period around calving, the whole lactation and fertility can be disturbed, which increases the risk of premature culling.
Management such as claw trimming, feeding and hygiene are important measures in sustaining good claw health in a shorter perspective. In a longer perspective, claw and leg disorders can also be prevented by breeding. However, the most appropriate and efficient approach in daily practice and in the long run is to provide cow comfort in resting and walking areas and thereby minimise the negative influence of free cow traffic in the free stall system.
The aim of the present study was to assess the influence of rubber floors compared with concrete floors in the alleys (Figure 1) and feeding area on cows’ locomotion, claw and leg health, cleanliness, grooming and social behaviour, as well as milk production and the number of excluded cows.
Figure 1. Alley area with rubber floor at Lövsta. Photo: Pernilla Norberg.
The starting hypotheses for the project were that:
Rubber flooring has a positive impact on locomotion, claw and leg health, grooming and social behaviour and milk yield in dairy cows;
the number of excluded cows is fewer in free stall systems with rubber floors; and
cow cleanliness is not directly influenced by flooring type, though it is interesting to observe.
Softer flooring seemed to have a positive impact on the dairy cows studied, especially on their locomotion scoring.
Heel horn erosion seemed to be more common in cows on rubber floors than on concrete, but did not seem to affect the incidence of lameness in the cows.
The frequency of cows grooming themselves seemed to be higher in cows on rubber floors than on concrete floors. However, the difference between the groups was not statistically significant.
Rubber flooring significantly increased the frequency of social grooming compared with concrete flooring.
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