One important criterion in choosing appropriate housing systems for dairy cattle is that the freestall provides a comfortable surface for the cow. This paper describes two experiments testing the effects of commonly used lying surfaces on stall preference and stall usage by Holstein cows. In both experiments, 12 cows were housed individually in separate pens. Each pen contained three free stalls with a different surface: deep-bedded sawdust, deep-bedded sand, and a geotextile mattress covered with 2 to 3 cm of sawdust. The animals were restricted to each surface in turn, in a random order for either 2 (Experiment 1) or 3 d (Experiment 2). Both before and after this restriction phase, the animals were allowed access to all three surfaces, and preference was determined, based on lying times. Of the 12 cows used in Experiment 1, 10 preferred sawdust before and nine after the restriction phase. During the restriction phase, average lying times and number of lying events during the restriction phase were significantly lower for the sand-bedded stalls (P ≤ 0.05), and standing times were higher on mattresses (P ≤ 0.05), compared with sawdust. Although these cows had some experience with all three surfaces during the experiment, they had been housed in sawdust-bedded stalls during their previous lactation. Cows used in Experiment 2 had spent their previous lactation in sand bedded stalls. In this experiment, about half the cows preferred sand and half sawdust, after the restriction phase. During the restriction phase of experiment, lying times and number of lying events were lower, and standing times were higher when the animals were restricted to the mattresses compared to either sand or sawdust (P ≤ 0.05). These results indicate that (1) free stall surface can affect both stall preferences and stall usage, and (2) mattresses are less preferred.
Tucker, C. B., Weary, D. M., & Fraser, D. (2003). Effects of three types of free-stall surfaces on preferences and stall usage by dairy cows. Journal of dairy science, 86(2), 521-529. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(03)73630-3