Some housing systems on dairy farms can result in long-term chronic pain. The effects of acute pain on immunity have been explored, but chronic pain's influence on immune responses is still poorly understood. Therefore, the objective of this research was to determine chronic effects of flooring on immune responses and production in freestall housing for dairy cows. Thirty heifers were studied from before calving as first-calf heifers until d 180 of their second lactation. Treatments were rubber (Kraiburg; Agromatic Inc., Fond du Lac, WI) flooring or concrete with diamond grooves in a freestall barn, each in 2 quadrants of the barn. Heifers entered the treatments after calving, so the system was dynamic and each cow was considered an experimental unit. At the end of the first lactation, cows were housed in a bedded pack barn with pasture access until calving was imminent. At that time, they returned to their assigned treatment, but not necessarily into the same quadrant. Production, reproduction, cortisol, acute-phase proteins, and health data were recorded throughout lactation 1, locomotion was scored weekly, and hoof scoring and care was conducted on d 60 and 180 of lactations 1 and 2, and quantitative real-time-PCR of blood leukocytes was analyzed in mid lactation of lactation 1. Mature-equivalent milk fat, milk protein, and protein percentages during the first lactation were greater for cows on the rubber flooring. Hoof and leg therapy treatments per cow were fewer for rubber floor-housed cows. Locomotion scores were less for cows housed on rubber during the second lactation. White blood cell counts were less for cows housed on rubber, and caused by greater lymphocyte counts for cows housed on concrete. The possibility of chronic inflammation was substantiated by less IL-1β and more IL-1 receptor antagonists for cows housed on rubber at d 150 in the second lactation. Cortisol and acute-phase proteins did not differ between the treatments. Interferon-γ, IL-12, the modulator of tissue reconstruction (B-cell-transforming growth factor 1), and pain-modulating neurokinin (tachykinin 1) were not different at d 105. These data show indicators of chronic inflammation for cows housed on the concrete flooring compared with those housed on rubber. Implications for the use of rubber flooring in freestall barns are broader than just lameness and may affect many aspects of cow physiology and production.
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- Cow comfort
- Dairy cow