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Margit Bak Jensen

Better recovery from lameness among dairy cows housed in hospital pens

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Housing in hospital pens may be beneficial for lame cows due to soft flooring and less competition for resources. We compared recovery from lameness among dairy cows housed in designated hospital pens, with deep-litter straw, with recovery among cows housed together with the rest of the lactating cows in their home pens, with cubicles and slatted or solid concrete floors. Additionally, we compared lying behavior in the 2 groups of cows. A total of 168 lame dairy cows from 5 herds were included in the study. Each herd was visited once weekly, and lame cows (locomotion score 3 or 4 on a 5-point scale) were examined in a hoof-trimming chute, trimmed, and randomly assigned to 1 of 2 treatments: housing in a hospital pen (termed “treatment”; 72 cows) or housing under the herds’ standard conditions together with the rest of the lactating cows in the herd (termed “control”; 96 cows). Cows were locomotion scored weekly until they were no longer lame or until they had been part of the trial for 3 weeks (i.e., 2, 3, or 4 locomotion scorings per cow). We categorized cows to describe the progression of lameness over time: recovery (divided into fast, medium, or slow), improvement without recovery, constant lameness, or worsening of lameness. Lying behavior was recorded in a sample of 60 of the 168 cows for a period of 5 d. Overall, recovery from lameness was significantly different between treatment and control cows. The proportion of cows included in the study with locomotion score 4 and a subsequent improvement was significantly higher among treatment cows than among control cows. Among cows included with locomotion score 4, 40% of treatment cows also had a locomotion score 4 at the fourth locomotion scoring, 46% had improved to a score 3, and 14% were no longer lame. In comparison, 73% of control cows had a locomotion score 4 at the fourth locomotion scoring, 16% had improved to a score 3, and 11% were no longer lame. We found no differences between treatment and control cows for mean daily lying time, number of steps per day, number of daily lying bouts, or mean duration of lying bouts. Housing of lame dairy cows in a hospital pen with a soft surface, easier access to feed and water, a smaller group size, and reduced waiting time for milking may have positive effects on recovery from lameness. Typically, farmers have housed only severely lame cows in hospital pens. However, our results indicate that less severely lame cows may also benefit from a stay in a hospital pen.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Pages (from-to)11291-11297
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • dairy cow, hospital pen, lameness, recovery

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