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  • Oral presentation
  • Open Access

The Impact of Housing and Management on Health and Welfare of Dairy Cattle

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica200344 (Suppl 1) :P53

  • Published:


  • Lower Prevalence
  • Dairy Cattle
  • Regular Exercise
  • Reproductive Performance
  • Bedding Material

The objective of this study was to identify the effect of different housing systems and exercise of cows on indicators of health and welfare. Three groups of farms were compared: (1) tie stalls with little exercise during winter, (2) tie stalls with regular exercise outdoors (paddock or pasture), (3) free stalls with regular access to an outdoor paddock.

Farms were recruited by sending a letter to farms randomly selected from a central database. 50% of the farm managers volunteered to participate in the study. 45 farms from each housing system were randomly selected among volunteers. Each farm was visited 3 times during a 2-year period. Farm managers were interviewed on management practices, and the housing system was described. In the winter 1999 and the winter 2000, a veterinarian observed the behaviour of 5 cows during lying and standing up. In addition, a short clinical examination was performed on each dairy cow. The emphasis was on recording injuries around the joints and at the trunk, and on observing lameness in cows walking to pasture. Data on reproductive performance and medical records were also collected.

Data were analysed by multiple regression analysis. The effects of housing system and exercise of cows were corrected for cofactors such as herd size, location of farm, type of building, and education of farm manager. Factors that were significant over both years are reported here.

In 1999 and 2000, the prevalence of cows with some restrictions of the space for lying was 41% and 51% respectively in tie stalls with minimal exercise. In free stalls, this prevalence was reduced by 19% and 29% (absolute numbers). There was no significant influence of housing system or exercise on the behaviour during standing up. Free stalls had a 6% lower prevalence of lameness than tie stalls. In addition, regular exercise prevented lameness (1% less per additional day of exercise per week). Cows in stalls with a long lying area had, on average, a 10% lower prevalence of lameness in 1999 and a 4% lower prevalence in 2000 compared to cows in stalls with a short lying area. Injuries of the skin around the joints were 12% and 16% less frequent in free stalls than in tie stalls. For each additional day of exercise, 3% less injuries were observed. In farms that could not provide exercise to cows during poor weather conditions, injuries at the trunk were 1% more frequent when they let the cows outside one additional day. On the other hand, if cows could exercise regardless of the weather, 5% less injuries were recorded. Calluses at the carpal joints were 19% and 18% less prevalent in free stalls and in farms with the ability to let cows outside regardless of weather conditions. A large amount of straw or other bedding materials also reduced calluses at the carpal joints (16% and 18% less in 1999 and 2000 respectively).

Although reproductive performance tended to be poorer in tie than in free stalls, these differences were not significant. Farms with tie stalls and little exercise of cows during winter needed, on average, 6.3 treatments per 10 cows and year, 5 of which were antibiotic treatments. Free stalls averaged 2 treatments less, 1 of which was an antibiotic.

This study showed that exercise is beneficial dairy cows. Especially free stalls with permanent access to an outdoor paddock had a positive effect on health and welfare.

Authors’ Affiliations

Swiss Federal Veterinary Office, 3003 Bern, Switzerland


© The Author(s); licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2003

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.