Cow Comfort

Cow comfort has been identified as a prime focus for preventing lameness in the dairy herd. All aspects of the cow's life on the farm - most particularly when housed - play a vital role in controlling potential mobility problems. Even issues like providing adequate ventilation and controlling heat stress in herds have an influence on cow comfort levels.

Primary areas influencing cow comfort levels are cubicle suitability, floor surface quality and general space allowances which allow cattle to exhibit the most natural behaviour possible and refer back to the Five Freedoms. Studies have identified that foot trauma - and subsequent mobility problems - increases with:

  • Uncomfortable, unsuitable or poorly-bedded cubicles
  • Prolonged standing on concrete surfaces, particularly if they are wet, new, worn or damaged
  • Poorly-maintained, uneven track surfaces with stones underfoot
  • Impatient or inconsiderate herding, particularly with the use of sticks or dogs
  • Incompetent foot trimming
  • Bottlenecks and sharp turns from the feeding and housing area to the parlour
  • Poorly-designed handling facilities
  • Narrow passageways which allow the bullying of the more submissive cows by dominant herd members.

Cubicle and floor design and construction are particularly important aspects of cow comfort planning.

Passageway design and dimensions are also areas in which cow comfort and welfare can be addressed. If passageways are narrow, it can tend towards the more submissive herd members finding it difficult to avoid dominant cows, and bullying behaviour can be a problem. This increases the risk of foot trauma and slips and falls. Narrow passageways also require more frequent scraping to avoid the problems that can occur when slurry pools, while falls across the width of passageways should be avoided;to avoid pooling of slurry next to kerbs or feed barriers. Design recommendations for passageways are:

  • Feeding passageways should be 4-5 metres in width, to allow for two cows to pass side-by-side behind a feeding cow. With particularly large breeds or types of cow, more space should be allowed.
  • Cubicle passageways should be 3-4.5 metres in width, this allows space for two cows to pass should a third cow be particularly stood in a cubicle. Where minimal cross passageways exist or there are a row of cubicles on both sides, passageways should be larger. Again, with particularly large breeds or types of cow, more space should be allowed.
  • Passageway falls:

Rubber flooring is a relatively new idea and research is ongoing to measure its true worth. While it is apparent that standing and walking on rubber is generally more comfortable for cows because it reduces the traumatic impact on the cow's foot, there may be implications for hoof growth and wear that mean that foot trimming may be required more often or the style of trimming may need to be adapted for cows housed on rubber, as the less-abrasive surface results in altered growth and wear of claws. The presence of rubber floors also highlights the relative levels of cow comfort in cubicles as cows may be more likely to lie in comfortable (but dirty) passageways rather than in uncomfortable cubicles.

Studies have suggested a reduction in sole bruising and general lameness levels on rubber floors, but while the cow's weight allows the foot to penetrate into the rubber flooring to achieve grip, it has been proven that on some types of rubber flooring, wet or badly-scraped rubber can be particularly slippery. It is apparent that the design and type of the rubber used in the flooring defines its properties in this respect and therefore some types of rubber flooring may be better than others. Other recognised advantages of rubber-floored passageways include increased observed bulling activity, and rubber flooring placed in front of feed barriers has also resulted in increased feed intake and milk yield in studied herds. Rubber flooring in parlour standings and collecting yards is also a means to improve cow comfort levels.