Effects of flooring and restricted freestall access on behavior and claw health of dairy heifers

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Claw health, locomotion, feed intake, milk yield, body weight, activity, and lying and standing behavior of dairy heifers were monitored in a single dairy herd during the first 3 mo after calving. During the first 8 wk after calving, 2 treatments were applied: restricted freestall access by closing the stalls between 2300h and 0500h (yes or no) and alley flooring (concrete or rubber topped slatted floors). Apart from treatments, housing was identical. The animals were kept in small groups (n=4 to 6) in adjacent barn pens. Thereafter, the animals were kept in 1 group in a freestall section with concrete slatted floor and unrestricted access to the stalls for 5 wk. All animals were fed the same partial mixed ration. We hypothesized that (1) hard flooring causes high mechanical load of the claws and (2) restricted freestall access causes prolonged standing bouts and reinforced effects of hard flooring on claws. The heifers had only minor claw lesions before first calving, and the prevalence and severity of sole hemorrhages increased during the first 3 mo after calving (from 0.24±0.08 to 1.18±0.14 and from 0.04±0.01 to 0.24±0.02, respectively), particularly in the outer hind claws. Animals kept on rubber alley flooring had lower average hemorrhage scores in wk 9 (0.13±0.03 vs. 0.21±0.03) and wk 14 (0.20±0.03 vs. 0.27±0.03) after calving, had a slower feed intake (3.05±0.14 vs. 3.46±0.14 g/s) and spent more time feeding (7.3±0.3 vs. 6.6±0.3 min/h) than animals kept on hard concrete alley floors. Restricted freestall access resulted in fewer standing bouts per day (14.4±1.0 vs. 17.9±1.0) and more strides per hour (99.8±5.4 vs. 87.2±5.4) without changing overall standing time (15.0±0.3 vs. 14.7±0.3 h/d) and did not affect the occurrence of sole hemorrhages. The animals with no overnight freestall access spent more time standing (55.9±0.9 vs. 35.8±0.9 min/h) and feeding (7.8±0.3 vs. 4.3±0.3 min/h) between 2300 and 0500h and less during the rest of the 24-h period (31.3±0.8 vs. 37.0±0.8 min/h and 6.8±0.3 vs. 7.6±0.3 min/h). Thus, the animals adapted to restricted freestall access, that caused increased overnight standing, by additional lying down during the day and used part of the extra standing time at night for feeding. The restrictions probably had only a minor effect on the mechanical load of their claws. Therefore, the first part of the hypothesis was confirmed and the second part was rejected
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-715
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • free stalls
  • cattle
  • cows
  • lesions
  • lactation
  • lameness
  • sole
  • hemorrhages
  • prevalence
  • locomotion


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