Shewbridge Carter, L., Haskell, M. J., Ball, D. et al. 2022. Dairy cows value an open area for lying down. PLoS ONE 17(5), e0268238.
As dairy cows are being housed for longer periods, with all-year-round housing growing in popularity, it is important to ensure housed environments are meeting the needs of cows. Dairy cows are motivated to access open lying areas, although previous motivation studies on this topic have confounded surface type and location (i.e. pasture outdoors vs cubicles indoors). This study measured cow motivation for lying down on an indoor open mattress (MAT; 9 m x 5 m) compared to indoor mattress-bedded cubicles, thus removing the confounding factor of surface type and location. This was repeated for an identically sized indoor deep-bedded straw yard (ST), to investigate whether surface type affected motivation for an open lying area. Thirty Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were housed in groups of 5 (n = 5 x 6) in an indoor robotic milking unit with access to six mattress-bedded cubicles. To assess motivation, cows were required to walk increasing distances via a one-way indoor raceway to access the open lying areas: Short (34.5 m), followed by Medium (80.5 m) and Long (126.5 m). Cows could choose to walk the raceway, leading to the MAT or ST, to lie down or they could lie down on the cubicles for ‘free’. Overall, cows lay down for longer on the open lying areas at each distance compared to the cubicles, with cows lying down slightly longer on ST than MAT, although lying times on the open lying areas did decrease at the Long distance. However, cows were still lying for >60% of their lying time on the open lying areas at the Long distance. This study demonstrates that cows had a high motivation for an open lying area, the provision of which could better cater for the behavioural needs of housed dairy cows and improve housed dairy cow welfare.