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The effects of freestall surfaces and geometry on dairy cattle behavior Tucker, Cassandra Blaine

Abstract

An important aspect of providing appropriate housing systems for dairy cattle (Bos taurus) is a suitable space for lying down. This thesis describes a series of eight experiments, and is a systematic attempt to test the effects of commonly used freestall surfaces (sand, sawdust, mattresses) and configurations (width, length, height, etc.) on the behavior of cattle. Two main categories of behavior were measured: preferences for options during choice tests, and the time spent lying and standing in the freestall area when the animals had no choice among treatments. Lying behavior was influenced by components of the freestall that cattle have contact with while lying down: freestall surface and space between partitions. Deep-bedded or heavily-bedded stall surfaces resulted in an increase in the number of lying events and total lying time, and the animals demonstrated clear preferences for these softer surfaces. In contrast, average duration of lying bouts and total lying time were higher in wider stalls, but cattle did not demonstrate clear preferences for stall size. The placement of the neck rail had no consistent effect on stall preference or lying behavior. All aspects of freestall design influenced the time spent standing in the stall. Cattle spent more time standing on mattresses than deep-bedded sand or sawdust and in stalls where the neck rail had been moved farther from the entrance to the stall or raised farther above the stall surface. In addition, cattle spent more time standing with only the front hooves in smaller stalls than larger ones. These experiments provide insight into how dairy cattle perceive the space provided for lying and standing.

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