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J Dairy Sci. 2011 Oct;94(10):4878-88. doi: 10.3168/jds.2010-4019.

A study on cow comfort and risk for lameness and mastitis in relation to different types of bedding materials.

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Department of Farm Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, 3584 CL Utrecht, the Netherlands.


The aim was to obtain data regarding the effects of 4 freestall bedding materials (i.e., box compost, sand, horse manure, and foam mattresses) on cow comfort and risks for lameness and mastitis. The comfort of freestalls was measured by analyzing the way cows entered the stalls, the duration and smoothness of the descent movement, and the duration of the lying bout. The cleanliness of the cows was evaluated on 3 different body parts: (1) udder, (2) flank, and (3) lower rear legs, and the bacteriological counts of the bedding materials were determined. The combination of the cleanliness of the cows and the bacteriological count of the bedding material provided an estimate of the risk to which dairy cows are exposed in terms of intramammary infections. The results of the hock assessment revealed that the percentage of cows with healthy hocks was lower (20.5 ± 6.7), the percentage of cows with both damaged and swollen hocks was higher (26.8 ± 3.2), and the severity of the damaged hock was higher (2.32 ± 0.17) on farms using foam mattresses compared with deep litter materials [i.e., box compost (64.0 ± 10.4, 3.5 ± 4.7, 1.85 ± 0.23, respectively), sand (54.6 ± 8.2, 2.0 ± 2.8, 1.91 ± 0.09, respectively), and horse manure (54.6 ± 4.5, 5.5 ± 5.4, 1.85 ± 0.17, respectively)]. In addition, cows needed more time to lie down (140.2 ± 84.2s) on farms using foam mattresses compared with the deep litter materials sand and horse manure (sand: 50.1 ± 31.6s, horse manure: 32.9 ± 0.8s). Furthermore, the duration of the lying bout was shorter (47.9 ± 7.4 min) on farms using foam mattresses compared to sand (92.0 ± 12.9 min). These results indicate that deep litter materials provide a more comfortable lying surface compared with foam mattresses. The 3 deep litter bedding materials differed in relation to each other in terms of comfort and their estimate of risk to which cows were exposed in terms of intramammary infections [box compost: 17.8 cfu (1.0(4)) ± 19.4/g; sand: 1.2 cfu (1.0(4)) ± 1.6/g; horse manure: 110.5 cfu (1.0(4)) ± 86.3/g]. Box compost had a low gram-negative bacterial count compared with horse manure, and was associated with less hock injury compared with foam mattresses, but did not improve lying behavior (lying descent duration: 75.6 ± 38.8s, lying bout duration: 46.1 ± 18.5 min). Overall, sand provided the best results, with a comfortable lying surface and a low bacterial count.

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