OSCII Activity D.43

Effect of exercise and stall modifications on cow comfort and performance in tie-stall farms

Activity summary

Context: Improved animal welfare leads to better health of dairy animals, with beneficial economic consequences for the producer. In order to encourage dairy producers to adopt innovative practices to improve animal welfare, as for example science-based Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC)’s Codes of Practice recommendations, we need concrete examples of how this improves commercial farm profitability. In Canada, 75% of dairy farms are tie-stall farms (Canadian Dairy Information Centre, 2012). Our recent epidemiological studies conducted on Canadian tie-stalls farms that do not provide open air exercise or pasture access reported that on average 40% of the cows show injuries on at least one body part such as knee, hock or neck and that, on average, only 28% of the cows are tied in stalls whose dimensions are appropriate for their length and width (de Passillé et al., 2012). In Eastern Canada tie-stall barns, a majority of farms leave their cows tied-up in their stall for the major part of their lactation. On these farms, stall configuration will have a major impact on cow comfort. Preliminary data from an epidemiological study conducted on Canadian organic dairies showed that injuries are also an issue in the surveyed tie-stall farms (Tucker et al., 2012 [PDF - 30kB]).

Objective: The present study aims to investigate, on 20 commercial tie-stall farms in Ontario and Québec, how modifications of stall configuration may improve cow comfort and productivity, and whether cows provided with exercise (according to DFC recommendations and as required by Canadian organic standards) will respond differently to stall improvements.

Methodology: Short-term effects of stall modifications on cow condition will be investigated to understand the time needed for the cows to adjust to new stall configurations (e.g. possible changes in lying time, milk loss). Mid- and long-term effects (over 1 year) of improved stall configuration will be investigated to see potential improvement of cow condition (e.g. fewer injuries) and, eventually, improvement of cow performance. We will also investigate whether cow condition differs and responds differently to stall modifications in tie-stall farms that provide pasture access during the summer and open air exercise during the winter, or neither pasture nor winter open air exercise.

Two groups of tie-stall farms, with ten farms in each group, will be selected in Québec and Ontario:

  1. Pasture + Winter Exercise: farms (organic or conventional) with daily pasture access during the grazing season and at least weekly open air exercise access when cows are confined most of the time inside (winter),
  2. Zero Exercise: farms providing neither pasture nor winter open air exercise.

On each farm, stall modifications will be applied to stall configuration (including adjustments to chain length, tie-rail height and horizontal position, lunge space (height and horizontal position of manger wall) and electric trainer position) to maximize cow comfort in 10 stalls, and no modification will be applied to 10 control stalls. Each farm will be visited at 4 time-points over 1 year and comfort level (including animal-based and environment-based measures) and milk production on 20 focal cows (housed in the 20 improved and control stalls) will be measured at each time-point.

Significance of the project:
Expected results:

  • Establish the impact of tie-stall comfort on milk production and animal condition;
  • Apply tie-stall configuration recommendations proposed by DFC;
  • Understand the effect of pasture access and winter outdoor access (recommended practices by DFC and required by Canadian organic standards) on cow condition.

Expected outputs:

  • Improvement of cow comfort in tie-stalls will lead to the reduction in lameness, injury and an increased longevity, which will improve the productivity of individual farms;
  • Training of high qualified personnel to insure and support the development of a sustainable dairy both conventional and organic industry in Canada;
  • Knowledge transfer of the DFC’s recommendations. 

Materials and Results to Date

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Elsa Vasseur, Activity Leader University of Guelph, Campus d'Alfred
Steve Adam Valacta Inc.
Renée Bergeron University of Guelph, Campus d'Alfred
Anne Marie De Passillé AAFC Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre - Agassiz
Trevor DeVries University of Guelph
Derek Haley University of Guelph
Daniel Lefebvre Valacta Inc.
Doris Pellerin Université Laval
Jeffrey Rushen Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Agassiz


Activity graduate students

Santiago Palacio