Animal welfare in cross-ventilated, compost-bedded pack, and naturally ventilated dairy barns in the upper Midwest

K. M. Lobeck, M. I. Endres, E. M. Shane, S. M. Godden, J. Fetrow

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The objective of this cohort study was to investigate animal welfare in 2 newer dairy housing options in the upper Midwest, cross-ventilated freestall barns (CV) and compost-bedded-pack barns (CB), compared with conventional, naturally ventilated freestall barns (NV). The study was conducted on 18 commercial dairy farms, 6 of each housing type, in Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. The primary breed in all farms was Holstein; 1 CV and 1 NV herd had approximately 30% Jersey-Holstein crossbreds. All freestall herds used sand for bedding. Farms were visited 4 times (once in each season) between January and November 2008, and approximately 93% of all animals in each pen were visually scored on each visit. Outcome-based measurements of welfare (locomotion, hock lesions, body condition score, hygiene, respiration rates, mortality, and mastitis prevalence) were collected on each farm. Lameness prevalence (proportion of cows with locomotion score ≥3 on a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 = normal and 5 = severely lame) in CB barns (4.4%) was lower than that in NV (15.9%) and CV (13.1%) barns. Lameness prevalence was similar between CV and NV barns. Hock lesion prevalence (proportion of cows with a lesion score ≥2 on a 1 to 3 scale, where 1 = normal, 2 = hair loss, and 3 = swelling) was lower in CB barns (3.8%) than in CV (31.2%) and NV barns (23.9%). Hygiene scores (1 to 5 scale, where 1 = clean and 5 = very dirty) were higher for CB (3.18) than CV (2.83) and NV (2.77) barns, with no differences between CV and NV barns. Body condition scores, respiration rates, mastitis prevalence, culling, and mortality rates did not differ among housing systems. The CV and NV barns were evaluated using the cow comfort index (proportion of cows lying down in a stall divided by all animals touching a stall) and the stall usage index (proportion of cows lying divided by all animals in the pen not eating). The CV barns tended to have greater cow comfort index (85.9%) than the NV barns (81.4%) and had greater stall usage index (76.8% and 71.5%, respectively). Dairy cattle housed in CB barns had reduced lameness and hock lesions compared with those housed in freestall barns and had no adverse associations with body condition, respiration rates, mastitis prevalence, culling, or mortality. When comparing the 2 freestall housing options, CV barns had improved cow comfort indices compared with NV barns. Although cows in CB barns had better feet and leg health, as indicated by the reduced lameness and hock lesion prevalence, acquiring bedding and managing the bedded pack could limit their use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5469-5479
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011



  • Compost-bedded pack
  • Cross-ventilated barn
  • Lameness
  • Respiration rate

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