Li, P., Cai, A., Descovich, K. et al. 2021. A comparison of rice husks and peanut shells as bedding materials on dairy cows’ preferences, behaviour, and health. Animals 11(7), 1887.
The provision and quality of bedding materials affect the behaviour, welfare, and health of dairy cows. The objective of this study was to evaluate the preference, behaviour, cleanliness, and physiological status of cows on three bedding materials, peanut shells, rice husks, and a combination of two-thirds peanut shells, one-third rice husk. In an initial experiment, 15 nonlactating, pregnant Holstein cows had free access to all 3 bedding treatments for 39 d. Cows spent more time lying down on rice husk (337 min/d) than on peanut–rice combination (212 min/d) and peanut shell (196 min/d) (p < 0.05), and lay down most often on rice husk (4.35 bouts/d) than on peanut shell (2.55 bouts/d) (p < 0.05) but did not differ between peanut shells and peanut–rice combinations in terms of lying time and lying bouts. In Experiment 2, 12 nonlactating cows were used to assess the effects of the 3 bedding materials on dairy cow behaviour, cleanliness, serum indicators, and productivity. The total duration of lying down (PS: 699.1 min/d, PRC: 645.6 min/d, RH: 852.5 min/d), the frequency of bouts of lying down (PS: 8.7 bouts/d, PRC: 7.6 bouts/d, RH: 11.1 bouts/d), and the mean duration of lying bouts (PS: 83.5 min/bouts, PRC: 91.8 min/bouts, RH: 81.4 min/bouts) did not differ between treatments. Similarly, no differences in eating or drinking behaviour of dairy cows were observed. In terms of hygiene, cleanliness scores did not differ between the three bedding materials, but udder and flank cleanliness decreased and improved, respectively. In addition, treatments did not affect serum metabolites or productivity of the cows. In summary, daily behaviour, serum metabolites, and productivity of dairy cows were all within the normal range, and no statistical differences occurred between the three bedding materials, although cows showed a preference for rice husk when given access to all three bedding materials at the same time. Finally, the results suggest that bedding comprised of peanut shells and peanut–rice combinations are all suitable for maintaining the health and comfort of dairy cows.