|Title||Symposium review: Animal welfare in free-walk systems in Europe|
|Author(s)||Blanco-Penedo, Isabel; Ouweltjes, Wijbrand; Ofner-Schröck, Elfriede; Brügemann, Kerstin; Emanuelson, Ulf|
|Source||Journal of Dairy Science (2020). - ISSN 0022-0302|
|Department(s)||Animal Health & Welfare|
|Publication type||Refereed Article in a scientific journal|
|Keyword(s)||alternative housing - compost-bedded pack - dairy cow - welfare|
Providing more space per animal, soft bedding, and free roaming in animal housing systems is widely presumed to be beneficial for the welfare of the animals. This observational study aimed to investigate the basis of this assumption in free-walk housing systems (FWS) for dairy cows in Europe. The dairy cattle Welfare Quality assessment protocol was adapted for application to FWS, and the focus was on animal-based measures, from individual cow scoring to comfort around resting. The study was conducted on 41 farms [21 FWS and 20 cubicle housing (CH)] from 6 European countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, and Sweden) displaying a variety of management systems. A total of 4,036 animals were scored. We found differences in animal welfare under different management conditions. The hindquarters and lower hind legs of cows from FWS were dirtier than those of cows in CH, but we found no difference in the dirtiness of udders or teats. Cows from FWS showed fewer hairless patches in all body areas except the neck; fewer lesions in the lower hind legs and hindquarters; and less swelling in the lower hind legs, flanks, and carpus than cows from CH. The prevalence of sound cows appeared to be higher in FWS, and moderate lameness prevalence was lower compared with CH. We found no difference in the prevalence of severe lameness between systems. We conducted a total of 684 observation sessions of comfort around resting, consisting of 830 lying down and 849 rising up movements. Cows in FWS took less time to lie down, had less difficulty rising up, and had fewer collisions with the environment during both behaviors than cows in CH. Cows lay partly or completely outside the supposed lying area less frequently in FWS than in CH. Cows in FWS adopted comfortable lying positions more often compared with CH, showing a higher occurrence of long and wide positions than cows in CH. Short positions were more common in FWS, and narrow positions were slightly more common in CH. We found large variations in animal-based measures between study herds and within housing systems. However, the observed patterns associated with each system demonstrated differences in cow scoring and comfort around resting. This study shows that a wide range of good and bad management practices exist in FWS, especially related to cow hygiene.