Sobte, H. F. M., Buijs, S. 2021. Impact of paper bedding on lying behaviour and welfare in lactating dairy cows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 239, 105321.
Lying is a highly motivated behaviour in dairy cows. The level of comfort provided by the lying surface not only affects lying time, but can also affect several other aspects of welfare. We used a crossover design to compare shredded paper and sawdust bedding in relation to lying behaviour, activity, lameness, integument damage, cleanliness and productivity. Cubicles were bedded with a thin layer of bedding, which was replaced as necessary to retain its hygienic state. Twenty-eight lactating Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were divided into two balanced groups that experienced each bedding treatment for a 2 week period in opposing order. Paper bedding resulted in significantly less time spent lying down (paper: 45 %, SD ± 6.7, sawdust: 48 %, SD ± 7.3, P < 0.01). Paper had a more beneficial effect on lameness development than sawdust did (lameness decreased for eight cows and increased for one cow whilst on paper, whereas it decreased for one cow and increased for ten cows whilst on sawdust, P < 0.005). However, the magnitude of improvement in mobility score whilst on paper (0.5 points) was small compared to the deterioration seen whilst on sawdust (1–2 points). Bedding adhesion tended to be slightly increased during the paper bedding treatment (paper: 0.14 ± 0.16 SD, sawdust 0.03 ± 0.26 SD, P = 0.09). No treatment effect was observed for lying frequency, the speed of transitions towards lying, pre-transition intention movements, or the risk of collisions during the transition (P > 0.10). Furthermore, no significant effects on step count, damage to the integument, cleanliness or milk yields were observed (P > 0.10). Slips were too rare overall for analysis. These findings indicate that paper bedding and sawdust were mostly comparable in terms of impact on behaviour, welfare and productivity when provided on a short-term basis. Future trials are recommended to determine if treatment effects persist following prolonged exposure to paper bedding. Assessing the longitudinal development of lameness and the long-term impact of reduced lying time will be essential.