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ASAE Conference Proceeding

This is not a peer-reviewed article.

The Effect Of Neck Rail And Mounting Rail Position On Cow Behavior

H.K. House, J. Rodenburg, B. R. Lang

Pp. 147-154 in Fifth International Dairy Housing Proceedings of the 29-31 January 2003 Conference, (Fort Worth, Texas, USA), ed. K. A. Janni. ,Pub. date 29 January 2003 . ASAE Pub #701P0203

Abstract

Video time-lapse recording (VTR) was used to monitor the effect of stall adjustments on cow behavior. Field observations were made in a three-row free stall barn of a group of 42 Holstein cows in 52 stalls. Over a three month period the neck rail was raised 11.5 cm (4.5 in) to a height of 127 cm (50 in) above the stall mattress, and the mounting rails were removed from in front of the cows. In all, six changes were video taped and analyzed. After each change the cows were allowed to adjust for a two-week period and then observed for a 48-hour period by VTR.

The data was analyzed by time to include: 1. Cows lying in the stalls, 2. Cows standing with four feet in the stalls, 3. Cows standing with two feet in the stalls, and 4. An empty stall. Stall observations were made every minute. The cows exhibited a high degree of variability in stall use from one day to the next. A positive response to the modifications was observed, but it was not definite in each case.

KEYWORDS. stall design and management, animal health – housing interactions, cow comfort, cow behavior, stall preference

Introduction

Every dairy producer’s goal should be to maximize cow comfort. Webster’s dictionary (1983) defines comfort as “contented well-being”. It usually means to provide as far as possible a stress free environment for the cow. In providing a stress free environment for the cow, the producer is also increasing milk production, reducing injuries, increasing the useful life of the cow within the herd, and therefore increasing profit potential.

Resting time although dependant on physiological and environmental factors was suggested as a comfort index for free stalls (Irish and Martin, 1983). The greater the comfort of the stall, the longer the cow will lay in it. In fact so great is the need for resting behavior that Metz (1985) determined that depriving a cow of lying for five to seven hours will immediately be compensated for in the following hours. Haley et al. (2000) concluded from their literature review that reducing the time dairy cattle can lie down is likely to have an adverse effect on dairy cattle welfare and productivity.

The comfort of the cow can be affected by a number of different things, such as temperature, ventilation, lighting, flooring, but the majority of research has focused on the cow’s “bedroom area” the stall area. In particular, most of the research work has concentrated on the cow’s preference to select a particular bedding material. For instance, a cow’s preference for rubber mats, carpeting, and a layered mat were studied by Natzke et al. (1982). Jensen et al. (1988) studied the cow preference between Enkamat K and concrete bedded with straw. Three surfaces, concrete stall base, conventional rubber matting, and a soft rubber matting were studied using cow preferences (Herlin, 1997). Sonck et al. (1999) compared 11 different stall surfaces by cow preference testing. Finally sand was compared with a number of different synthetic options in a field trial. (Thoreson et al., 2000). In fact, the cow’s preference for one material as compared to another has become an accepted means of determining a level of comfort for the cow. (Tucker and Weary, 2001)

In the past, observational studies have been tedious requiring observers to spend long hours in the barn, tracking cow movement, or entering the barn at specific times to gain a “snapshot” of what is happening. Albright (1981) recommended that 200 observations per day for three days be used to determine the location and activity of dairy cattle.

More recently the use of video time-lapse recording (VTR) is increasing. Time-lapse photography has been used since the early 1970’s (Young, 1972) to obtain activity records. However, the greater accessibility and lower cost of equipment has increased its popularity as a tool to study cow behavior. VTR has become a useful extension tool to encourage producers to improve dairy cattle health and performance (Anderson, 2001).

VTR allows for continuous observation over a long period of time if desired. The observer then has the ability to view the recording, in real time, or to speed up the recording to view larger blocks. This makes it easier to observe trends, and behavioral patterns that may not be easily recognized in real time. The ability is also there to stop the recording and obtain “snapshot” information at a point in time.

Comfort concerns have moved from focusing on base and bedding concerns to the stall partitions, and mounting hardware. Few studies have been done on the effect of the free stall design on the cow (Weary and Taszkun, 2000).

Equipment suppliers, producers, extension people, and others have observed a perceived relationship between neck rail location and height and degree of obstruction in the lunging space of the cow when compared to stall usage.

The current recommendation in Ontario for the neck rail height is 127 cm (50 in) above the stall mattress as compared to 109-114 cm (43-45 in) in the MWPS-7 (Table 4-1 Freestall dimensions) (Bickert et al., 2000). It was the purpose of this field study to look at how stall usage was affected by raising the neck rail from a height of 114 cm (45 in) to a height of 127 cm (50 in) and removing mounting hardware from directly in front of the cow.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Description of Dairy

In December of 1998 Steve Vandendool moved into a new free stall dairy barn just outside of Woodstock, Ontario. It consisted of 52 stalls for the milking cows in a three-row arrangement with 10 additional stalls for dry cows and older heifers. The barn is orientated north-south, with natural ventilation through full curtain walls and chimneys in the ridge. It is a slatted floor barn with manure stored underneath. The stall area consisted of suspended dividers with Pasture Mat rubber filled cow mattresses and Poly Pillow b risket locators. (Mention of trademark, proprietary product, or vendor is for information purposes only. No endorsement is implied.)

In the spring of 2000, Steve expressed interest in improving the comfort of his stalls by raising the neck rail and by removing the stall mounting hardware from in front of the cows. Steve agreed to make the changes in stages and allow his herd to be monitored during the process.

Animals

An average of 42 Holstein cows were monitored during the study. The average milk production over the test period was 37.8 kg/cow/day (83.3 lb/cow/day), and the average weight of the cows was 728 kg (1605 lbs).

Experimental Methods

Stall usage was monitored over a 14-week period from the end of May 2000 until the end of August 2000. Changes were made at the beginning of each stage, and the cows were then allowed to adjust to the changes for two weeks before they were video taped. Six stages were monitored as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1. Test and Recording Periods

Stage

Test

Test Period

Video Time - Lapse Recording

1

Initial

Up to June 2

May 29-30, 30-31

2

Preference 1

June 2 to 14

June 12-13, 13-14

3

Treatment 1

June 15 to 28

June 27-28

4

Preference 2

June 29 to July 16

July 13-14

5

Treatment 2

July 17 to 26

July 24-25, 25-26

6

Preference 3

July 27 to August 14

August 8-9, 9-10

Cow behavior was recorded for two consecutive days at the end of May before any changes were made to the neck rail, and front mounting rail. This stage was used to establish the initial stall usage for the herd. Changes were made to the free stall sections as listed in Table 2 and as shown in Figure 1. The first modifications were made to the stalls on June 2nd. The neck rail was raised to a height of 1.27m (50 in) above the mattress on half of the stalls using three – 3.8x14.0 cm (2x6 in) pieces of wood on their flat for spacers. (Figure 2). For stages 4, 5, and 6, the front mounting hardware was removed from in front of the free stalls by attaching the partitions directly to posts. The posts had to be moved to correspond to the free stall widths.

Figure 1. Free Stall Layout

147-154_files/image1.gif

Table 2. Position of Neck Rail and Front Mounting Rail

Stage

Test

Row A

Row B

Row C

North

South

North

South

North

South

1

Initial

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

2

Preference 1

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

3

Treatment 1

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

4

Preference 2

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRI

NR ? FRR

5

Treatment 2

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

6

Preference 3

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? FRR

NR ? - neck rails in initial position FRI – front mounting rails in place

NR ? - neck rails raised FRR – front mounting rails removed

Figure 2. Free stall Configuration

147-154_files/image2.gif

Behavioral Observations

Two ELMO TSN 410D CCD color video cameras were installed to monitor the north half and the south half of the free stalls at any one time. Images were recorded with a JVC SR-L911U Time Lapse VCR set to record in 24-hour mode. The two cameras overlapped to provide a view of the 52 free stalls.

Results

Cow behavior data was analyzed to include four parameters: 1. Cows lying in the stalls, 2. Cows standing with four feet in the stalls, 3. Cows standing with two feet in the stalls, and 4. an empty stall. Stall observations were recorded for these four parameters at one minute intervals. This proved to be a very tedious process.

Stall usage was defined as: 147-154_files/image3.gif

This was recorded as percent (%) usage. Time usage was reported when a complete 24-hour period could be observed. Statistical analysis for the results was not available at the time, so all the information is presented as field observations.

Cows were allowed to adjust to each set of modifications to the stalls for a two-week period. Cow behavior was then recorded on two consecutive days. Data was compared for the two initial days at the end of May (Table 3).

Table 3. Comparison of May 29-30 and May 30-31

May 29-30

(Hr/Day)

May 30-31

(Hr/Day)

Difference

Average

Lying

11.1

9.1

-2.0

10.1

4 feet

2.7

3.1

+0.4

2.9

2 feet

1.1

1.3

+0.2

1.2

L+4 feet

13.8

12.2

-1.6

13.0

L+4 feet + 2 feet

14.9

13.5

-1.4

14.2

Figure 3 and Figure 4 show the stall usage by time for May 29-30, 2000 and May 30-31, 2000.

Figure 3. Stall Usage by Time for May 29-30, 2000

147-154_files/image4.gif

Figure 4. Stall Usage by Time for May 30-31, 2000

147-154_files/image5.gif

In Treatment Test 1 all the neck rails were raised while the front mounting rails remained in-place. In Treatment Test 2 all the neck rails were raised and the front mounting rails were removed from in front of all the stalls. The two treatment effects were compared to the initial stall configuration (Table 4).

Table 4. Comparison of Initial, Treatment 1, and Treatment 2 (24 hour period)

Activity

Initial

All - NR ? FRI

Treatment 1

All - NR ? FRI

Treatment 2

All - NR ? FRR

% Usage

Hr/Day

% Usage

Hr/Day

% Usage

Hr/Day

Lying

34.4

10.1

41.5

12.2

36.4

10.7

4 feet

9.8

2.9

14.1

4.1

13.2

3.9

2 feet

4.1

1.2

1.9

0.6

4.3

1.3

L+4 feet

44.2

13.0

55.6

16.3

49.6

14.6

L+4 feet +2 feet

48.3

14.2

57.5

16.9

53.9

15.8

The remainder of the modifications consisted of preference tests where one half of the free stalls were changed at a time. In an effort to eliminate as many confounding factors as possible, each modification was compared to the modification immediately before it. The greatest equivalent time period for five of the six tests was for 18 hours from 1 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. the following day. Therefore, five of the six tests were compared as a percent of stall usage based on 18 hours.

In Preference Test 1 (Table 5) one half of the stall neck rails were raised 11.5 cm (4.5 in).

Table 5. % Usage Comparison of Initial and Preference 1 (18 hours)

Activity

Initial

All-NR ? FRI

Preference 1

NR ? FRI

Change

Initial

All-NR ? FRI

Preference 1

NR ? FRI

Change

Preference1 Effect

Lying

32.7

40.1

+7.4

33.0

40.0

+7.0

-0.4

4 feet

10.0

8.9

-1.1

11.0

8.5

-2.5

-1.4

2 feet

4.1

2.5

-1.6

4.5

2.7

-1.8

-0.2

L+4 feet

42.7

49.0

+6.3

44.0

48.5

+4.5

-1.8

L+4 feet +2 feet

46.8

51.5

+4.7

48.5

51.2

+2.7

-2.0

Treatment Test 1 (Table 6) involved raising all the neck rails, and was compared with Preference Test 1.

Table 6. % Usage Comparison of Preference 1 and Treatment 1 (18 hours)

Activity

Preference 1

NR ? FRI

Treatment 1

NR ? FRI

Change

Preference 1

NR ? FRI

Treatment 1 NR ? FRI

Change

Treatment 1 Effect

Lying

40.0

40.0

0.0

40.1

44.9

+4.8

+4.8

4 feet

8.5

15.9

+7.4

8.9

13.4

+4.5

-2.9

2 feet

2.7

1.9

-0.8

2.5

2.1

-0.4

+0.4

L+4 feet

48.5

55.9

+7.4

49.0

58.3

+9.3

+1.9

L+4 feet +2 feet

51.2

57.8

+6.6

51.5

60.4

+8.9

+2.3

Preference Test 2 involved removing one half of the front mounting rail from the stalls, and mounting the stall partitions directly to posts. Because the stalls in row B and row C were both mounted to the same front rails, the south half of both rows B and C had to be changed together. To compare the changes between Preference Test 2 with Treatment Test 1 (Table 7), the stall data from Treatment Test 1 had to be regrouped to correspond with the grouping for Preference Test 2.

Table 7. % Usage Comparison of Treatment 1 and Preference 2 (18 hours)

Activity

Treatment 1

NR ? FRI

Preference 2

NR ? FRI

Change

Treatment 1

NR ? FRI

Preference 2

NR ? FRR

Change

Preference 2 Effect

Lying

43.3

36.4

-6.9

40.7

37.6

-3.1

+3.8

4 feet

14.9

11.9

-3.0

14.3

12.5

-1.8

+1.2

2 feet

1.9

4.9

+3.0

2.1

6.0

+3.9

+0.9

L+4 feet

58.2

48.3

-9.9

55.0

50.1

-4.9

+5.0

L+4 feet +2 feet

60.1

53.2

-6.9

57.1

56.1

-1.0

+5.2

In Treatment Test 2 all the neck rails were raised and all the front mounting rails were removed. This test was compared to Preference Test 2 (Table 8).

Table 8. % Usage Comparison of Preference 2 and Treatment 2 (18 hours)

Activity

Preference 2

NR ? FRR

Treatment 2

NR ? FRR

Change

Preference 2

NR ? FRI

Treatment 2

NR ? FRR

Change

Treatment 2 Effect

Lying

37.6

37.2

-0.4

36.4

37.1

+0.7

+1.1

4 feet

12.5

13.3

+0.8

11.9

14.0

+2.1

+1.3

2 feet

6.0

3.9

-2.1

4.9

4.5

-0.4

+1.7

L+4 feet

50.1

50.5

+0.4

48.3

51.1

+2.8

+2.4

L+4 feet +2 feet

56.1

54.4

-1.7

53.2

55.6

+2.4

+4.1

The stalls in Treatment Test 2 had to be regrouped to compare with the stalls in Preference Test 3 (Table 9) where only one half of the stalls had the neck rail returned to the initial position. During the video taping for Preference Test 3 the lights were accidentally turned off at night. This was not discovered until the start of the analysis of the tape. It was too late then to go back and record this stage. Treatment Test 2 and Preference Test 3 were compared on the number of usable hours from both. This led to a shift in the % usage of the free stalls due to milking and feeding times.

Table 9. % Usage Comparison of Treatment 2 and Preference 3 (8 hours)

Activity

Treatment 2

NR ? FRR

Preference 3

NR ? FRR

Change

Treatment 2

NR ? FRR

Preference 3

NR ? FRR

Change

Preference 3 Effect

Lying

26.8

26.2

-0.6

26.2

27.4

+1.2

+1.8

4 feet

10.7

9.1

-1.6

14.6

9.2

-5.4

-3.8

2 feet

3.1

3.1

0

5.3

4.0

-1.3

-1.3

L+4 feet

37.5

35.3

-2.2

40.8

36.6

-4.2

-2.0

L+4 feet +2 feet

40.6

38.4

-2.2

46.1

40.6

-5.5

-3.3

DISCUSSION

Initially a rough analysis was done comparing the data from one of the days before modifications were made (May 30-31, 2000), with one of the final Treatment 2 days (July 25-26, 2000). This comparison showed an increase in lying time by over 1.5 hours. However, when data from the paired day was averaged into the comparison the lying time increased from 10.1 hr./day to 10.7 hr./day, an increase of only 0.6 hours (Table 4).

Table 3 shows the variability in data from one consecutive day to the next on a per cow basis. Figure 3 and Figure 4 illustrate this same data graphically on a per stall basis. Although some trends can be seen on the use of end stalls there does not appear to be a consistent use of stalls within the facility, or the time spent using the same stall from one day to the next. This was observed in all the paired days, illustrating the varied behavior of the cows.

Raising the neck rail on all the stalls seemed to lead to a marked increase in the lying time of the cow by 2.1 hrs/cow/day (Table 4). But when Treatment 2 was compared where the neck rail was raised and the front mounting rail was removed from the front of the stall an increase in lying time was not observed. It was expected that when the mounting rail was removed from the cow’s line of sight it would make the stall more attractive to the cow, resulting in an increase in stall use. When the increase in stall use in Treatment Test 2 was not as great as in Treatment Test 1 it leads to some doubt in the results observed for Treatment Test 1. It was then decided to compare each modification to the modification immediately preceding it.

Cows did show some positive response to raising the neck rails on all the stalls (Table 6), when compared to only raising the neck rails on one half of the stalls (Table 5). They also showed some positive response when the neck rail was raised on all the stalls, and the front mounting rail was removed on one half of the stalls (Table 7). However, when the front mounting rail was removed from in front of the other half of the stalls the change was not as great (Table 8).

When the neck rail was returned to its original position on one half of the free stalls in Preference Test 3 (Table 9) the cows did show a negative response in total usage (L+4+2) as expected. One final test was done where the neck rail was lowered on the other half of the stalls, but the data was not available for analysis at the time of this paper.

CONCLUSIONS

Many parameters affect the use of free stalls by cows. It was the hypothesis that raising the neck rail and removing the front rail from the cow’s lunging space would result in a marked increase in stall usage. Although some increase was observed, it was not definite in all cases. Other factors may have a more confounding effect than simply looking at changes in stall comfort. The high degree of variability in cow behavior from one day to the next raises a number of questions. Do cows require more than two weeks to adjust to changes in stall parameters? Would increasing the consecutive days of observation lead to more consistent cow behavior data?

Collection of data by a minute-to-minute basis was very tedious. An item of interest for further analysis of this data would be to compare the accuracy of minute by minute data collection to an increased time interval of 5, 10 or 15 minutes. It is hoped that further analysis of this data can be undertaken in the future to show any true significance in the behavior of the cows, information on location of stall use within the barn, and a suitable time frame for data collection.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks to Erin Vernooi, Julia Hodgins, Aimee Campbell, and Annemarie Kramer, summer students who over the last three years have spent many long hours in front of TV sets watching cow behavior until the cows came home.

REFERENCES

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Irish, W.W. and R.O. Martin, 1983. Design Considerations for Free Stalls. ASAE Proceedings of the 2nd National Dairy Housing Conference, Madison, WI.

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Tucker, C.B. and D.M. Weary, 2001. Stall Design: Enhancing Cow Comfort. Advances in Dairy Technology. 13: 155-168. Proceedings of the 2001 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Weary, D.M. and I. Taszkun. 2000. Hock Lesions and Free-Stall Design. Journal of Dairy Science. 83: 697-702

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Young, H.G., M.A. Hellickson, J.L. Reeves and M.J. Owens. A Time-Lapse Photography Study of Free Stall Housing for Dairy Calves. Transactions of the ASAE 15:1972, pg. 751-753