This cross-sectional study examined various aspects of cubicle design and management in terms of their potential as risk factors for hock lesions, using an epidemiological approach. Cubicle dairy farms in Germany and Austria with Holstein Friesian or Simmental cows were visited during the winter housing season. 105 farms and 3691 cows were included in the analysis which consisted of three steps: bifactorial regression, regression trees and multiple linear regression. The mean farm prevalence of hock lesions, i.e. scabs, wounds, and swellings was 50%, with a range from 0 to 100%. The final model contained eight factors which were largely related to lying comfort and explained 75% of the variance. The presence of a curb turned out to be the most influential beneficial factor. Additionally, there were fewer hock lesions when cows were housed with deep bedded cubicles compared to cubicles without deep bedding. Other factors in the regression model were softness and length of the lying surface and height of free space under cubicle partitions, the proportion of overconditioned cows and a variable encoding three different combinations of region, husbandry system (organic and conventional) and breed. Independently from the risk factor model hock lesions were positively correlated with lameness at herd level as well as at animal level. This probably results from related risk factors for both conditions. It can be concluded that lying comfort of dairy cows should be improved in order to prevent hock lesions. In addition, preventive measures for hock lesions at the same time have a potential of reducing lameness and thus to improve cow welfare in several aspects.
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