Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 1.1.2
Weaned heifers are generally housed in groups appropriate to their size. Heifers often have access to the outdoors. However, other housing practices are used as well (e.g., tethering). Little research has been done to examine the effects of housing on the welfare of weaned heifers (19).
Choices in housing design and construction of facilities have a direct influence on cow comfort. Cow behavior and health can be used as gauges of cow comfort (2). The choices producers make in housing and management have an impact on the welfare of cows and hence the profitability of a dairy farm. Flaws in design or construction features can lead to welfare and health outcomes like traumatic injuries, sore feet, mastitis or metabolic diseases (3).
Fear-based behaviors can also lead to health and welfare issues. Cows may exhibit fearful or apprehensive behavior if:
- facilities are unsafe
- they experience pain as a result of facility features (e.g., improperly placed neck rails, poor flooring, obstacles)
- approached by a dominant cow or otherwise have their comfort zone invaded
- the cow does not cope well with features of the equipment or facility (e.g., lack of lighting, noise from air-operated gates, slippery floor surfaces) (3).
Cow walking patterns can also be used as indicators of cow comfort and to identify inadequacies of flooring and lighting. A healthy cow places the rear foot into the position vacated by the front foot on the same side. Slippery floors or dark conditions can alter a cow’s walking behavior, placing greater stress on the outside claw (2).
The adoption of housing and management practices that reduce environmental risk factors for disease, and improve cattle health and welfare is encouraged (3).
Dry cows are generally housed in groups and often have access to the outdoors via pasture or dry lots. However, other housing practices are used as well (e.g. tethering). Little research has been done to examine the effects of housing on the welfare of dry cows.
Housing must allow cattle to easily stand up, lie down, adopt normal resting postures, and have visual contact with other cattle.
Cattle must have a bed that provides comfort, insulation, warmth, dryness and traction. Bare concrete is not acceptable as a resting surface.
RECOMMENDED BEST PRACTICES (HEIFERS, MILKING AND DRY COWS)
- provide bedding even when using mattresses
- provide flooring with good traction to prevent slipping and falling
- provide non-abrasive flooring material where long travel routes may cause excessive claw wear
- provide soft, high traction flooring in areas where cattle stand for long periods
- provide restraint facilities for ease of management and handling (e.g., use self-locking stanchions or head gates at the feed bunk)
- provide opportunities for all cattle to exercise daily, if weather permits
- be aware of behaviors that indicate an animal is feeling unsafe or fearful and rectify issues
- inspect cattle for injuries that indicate hazards in barns (e.g., hair loss, abrasions or swellings on legs, necks or other body parts)
- observe animal walking patterns and monitor gait scores to assess floors for traction and surface conditions (e.g., level, abrasiveness, obstructions)
- repair housing defects (e.g., broken stall partitions, concrete or other protrusions)
- ensure access routes to the milking parlor are free of hazards and consistently illuminated such that the cattle can see where they are going
- design facilities to allow for easy moving and grouping of animals.