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Can regular exercise and more comfortable stalls improve cleanliness and lameness in tie-stall dairy cows?
Tie-stall dairies are still one of the major housing systems around the world and with growing industry requirements to meet animal welfare standards, providing options to help producers meet these animal welfare standards is a priority. The objective of the study was to evaluate how minor stall modifications and/or regular exercise (access to pasture and winter exercise) affected the welfare of Holstein cows housed in tie-stalls. Twenty lactating cows/farm on 12 tie-stall farms were visited and assessed 4 times over one year. Visit 1 was conducted towards the end of the pasture season, visit 2, 9-30 days after modifications were applied, visit 3, towards the end of the winter, and visit 4, one year after visit 1. Stall modifications were applied to half of the study cows on each farm with most modifications being a re-adjustment of the tie-rail. Assessments of animal welfare consisted of animal and housing-based measures, as well as a management questionnaire. Farms were separated on whether they provided exercise (Exc) or not, as well as cows that were kept on modified (Mods) stalls or in unmodified stalls; differences in cow cleanliness, BCS and lameness were analyzed with a mixed model. Farm was nested in Exc and was included as a random effect and Exc, Mods and their interaction were treated as fixed effects. On visit 2 (in winter) 20% more cows had dirty udders when kept in modified stalls with exercise compared to unmodified stalls with exercise (30 vs. 10% respectively, P< 0.05). On visit 3, there were 20% fewer lame cows in the herds with exercise (18%) compared to herds with no exercise (38%) (P< 0.05). On visit 4, there were 9% more cows with dirty udders in modified stalls (16%) compared to unmodified stalls (7%) (P< 0.05). Results show that exercise can have a beneficial effect on lameness, especially during the winter months, and that modifications intended to improve stall comfort might cause some increase in cow dirtiness. However, this increase in dirtiness must be weighed against the potential benefits of a providing dairy cows with more adequate and comfortable stalls.
Keywords: regular exercise, tie-stall improvement, dairy cow