Improve the Comfort of the Stalls of Dairy Cows

Project entitled:

Improving the Comfort of Cows in Stall Housing to Increase their Longevity

Anne Marie de Passillé, Doris Pellerin, Jeffrey Rushen, Steve Adam, Daniel Lefebvre, Diane Parent


In Quebec, less than 40% of cows reach their third lactation. While more than 90% of dairy herds live in stall housing, little is yet known about culling-related risk factors in this type of stall, especially those related to comfort. This project allowed us, for the specific case of stall housing, to 1) provide valid tools to evaluate comfort levels in the farm, 2) establish the impact of comfort on the prevalence of lameness, 3) learn about the risk factors associated with cow comfort, 4) learn about the farming characteristics and practices that promote longer useful life and 5) diagnose the factors related to adopting practices that promote comfort. The measure design stage confirmed, among other things, the usability of accelerometers to assess the level of comfort in stall housing. Providing training and using the developed comfort measurement tools resulted in a very good repeatability rate between observers. A method for evaluating lameness in the stall was also validated. Results obtained in 100 farms suggest that simple modifications to stalls (moving the tie rail forward and lengthening the chains) decreased the incidence of neck, knee and hock injuries as well as lameness. In addition, these results show that the main factors associated with involuntary culling of first- and second-lactation cows are the genetic index for CCS, divider height, stall width, flesh condition (<=2), the time spent lying down (between 9 and 15 hours a day), and the number of times they get up. Lastly, the project showed the importance of some factors at various stages of the comfort-oriented practices implementation process—for example, the advisors or “peers” at the education/awareness-raising stage.