Claw complaints and lameness in dairy cattle are a considerable problem in livestock farming. Dutch research has shown that specific measures in the area of accommodation and management could improve the situation on dairy farms.
Joan Somers investigated the claw health of more than 7500 dairy cows on different stall floors. Four-fifths of the cows on a concrete stall floor, the most common accommodation, suffered from one or more claw problems. Cows in a straw yard had significantly healthier claws. A straw yard consists of a large bed of straw, often combined with a concrete corridor behind the feeding rack. Due to the drier and cushioning surface of straw, the cows' feet in a straw yard are less susceptible to various claw disorders.
Somers also studied the effect of claw problems on the walking pattern of the cows on different floor systems. By far the best walking pattern was seen in cows in a straw yard. In more than 80 percent of cases, they walked normally. Less than 1 percent were lame. Cows on a concrete floor walked considerably less well. A quarter walked tenderly, whereas almost 30 percent of the animals exhibited some form of lameness. Only 45 percent walked normally in an unhindered manner. The poor walking was partly caused by painful feet as a consequence of claw disorders, but the hardness of the concrete floor was also a significant factor.
Painful feet and disrupted movement have physical consequences for the behaviour and activity of the cows. The researcher demonstrated that animals with a serious abnormality laid down less frequently, spent less time at the feeding rack and arrived in the milking parlour later.
Disrupted movement and claw problems harm the animal's welfare. Animals experience pain, are limited in their natural behaviour and can less easily meet their biological needs. Joan Somers discovered that the welfare of dairy cows benefits, amongst other things, from comfortable bedding spaces in the stall, a dry stall floor, a balanced ration and regular claw care. The animals also benefit from being out in the field 24-hours a day in the summer. Somers states that the use of soft, cushioning stall floors could make a useful contribution to solving the problem.
The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.
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