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The effects of two out-wintering pad systems compared with free-stalls on dairy cow hoof and limb health

O'Driscoll, Keelin K.M., Hanlon, Alison, French, Padraig, Boyle, Laura A.
Journal of dairy research 2009 v.76 no.1 pp. 59-65
dairy cows, free stalls, locomotion, overwintering, lesions (animal), floors, outdoor enclosures, stocking rate, calving, wood chips, animal health, hooves, dairy farm management, limbs (animal), cattle housing, postpartum interval, Irish Republic
Lameness is one of the most serious health and welfare problems for dairy cows. This study compared hoof health, limb health and locomotion of dairy cows in three over-winter management systems. Treatments were: (1) an indoor free-stall system (FS), (2) outdoors on an uncovered woodchip pad (UP) and (3) outdoors on a covered woodchip pad (CP). Animals were assigned to treatments at drying off, remained on treatment until parturition, then turned out to pasture. Sole lesions were scored on assignment to treatment, at calving, and 6 weeks and 12 weeks post partum. Locomotion and skin lesions were scored on assignment to treatment, and every 2 weeks until parturition. Post-partum locomotion was scored weekly for 13 weeks. More FS cows were affected by limb lesions than CP cows, and these animals had the worst locomotion scores post calving. There was an effect of inspection, and interactive effect of inspection and treatment on sole lesion scores. UP cows had the highest sole lesion scores 12 weeks post partum probably due to softening of the hooves arising from exposure to moisture while on the woodchip pad. However, post partum, UP cows had better locomotion scores, and CP cows tended to have better scores than cows in FS. Both of these treatments were less likely to have a high tracking-up score than cows in FS. It is possible that cows in this treatment were able to exercise more, owing to the secure underfoot surface and lack of barriers, and this promoted limb flexibility. Although woodchip pads provided benefits for limb health and locomotion, the wood chip surface in both outdoor systems did not offer protective benefits to the hooves relative to housing on concrete. However, the provision of shelter on the pad somewhat overcame the problem of high sole lesion scores in the post-partum period.