Body size in relation to cubicle dimensions affects lying behavior and joint lesions in dairy cows

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Oct;103(10):9407-9417. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-16464. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


Adequate cubicle dimensions are important for dairy cows to allow for species-appropriate lying behavior. Even though cow body size has increased in the last 2 decades, the cubicle dimensions of housing systems built many years ago have not been adjusted on most farms. Therefore, cows may be impaired in their lying behaviors, and thus the present study aimed to determine the influence of the ratio of body size to cubicle dimension on lying behavior and joint lesions. We investigated the lying behavior of 144 cows with withers heights of 140 to 163 cm on 8 Swiss dairy farms. Among the farms, the cubicle bed length varied from 187 to 200 cm and lunge space length varied from 47 to 202 cm. Specific behaviors of lying down and standing up movements, as well as lying positions, were observed on 3 d per farm. As outcome variables, the occurrences of these behaviors were calculated as proportions in relation to the respective total number of observations per cow. In addition, the presence of joint lesions was scored once. Data of the individual cows were analyzed in relation to the given cubicle dimensions on the farms by mixed-effects models. The bed length ratio [bed length (cm) on the farm/withers height (cm) of the observed cow] and the lunge space ratio [lunge space length (cm) on the farm/withers height (cm) of the observed cow] were used as explanatory variables. An increase in the bed length ratio was associated with decreased proportions of lying down movements with (1) repeated head pendulum movements, (2) repeated stepping with front legs, and (3) hitting against cubicle elements; decreased proportions of standing up movements with (1) shifting backward, (2) hesitant head lunge movements, and (3) hitting against cubicle elements; and an increased proportion of lying positions without physical contact with cubicle elements. An increase in the lunge space ratio was associated with a decreased proportion of standing up movements with sideways directed head lunge movements. Furthermore, an increase in the bed length ratio decreased the proportion of cows with tarsal joint lesions. To summarize, the lying behavior of large-framed cows was clearly modified given the cubicle dimensions in use on the study farms. In view of the consistency of the obtained results, we recommend adjusting the dimensions of cubicles so that they are suitable for cows whose body size meets the breeding goals of the farm.

Keywords: bed length; lunge space length; lying down and standing up movement; withers height.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Body Size
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / etiology*
  • Dairying* / methods
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Joint Diseases