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Last update: May 2021

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Cooling of dairy cows in hot weather using a water-cooled stall mattress: short- and medium-term effects on behaviour, physiology, lameness and milk production

A new stall mattress with a water cooling system could improve the welfare and performance of high producing dairy cows during hot periods and reduce the impact of heat stress. This is what this project aims to investigate, using an intervention study on a commercial farm with innovative animal observation methods.

Cattle, and in particular high producing dairy cows, are very sensitive to heat stress which impacts on their welfare and production performance. Heat stress is suspected to increase the risk of lameness in the months following the stress, although this has not been proven. Over the last 20 years, several episodes of high summer heat have been recorded in mainland France, and meteorologists' forecasts suggest that this phenomenon will intensify in the coming years.

Several solutions exist to limit heat stress in cattle. Currently, the most commonly used are to improve the thermal environment of cattle by housing them in shaded, well-ventilated buildings and using fans, showers or misters. However, this equipment consumes large amounts of water and electricity, which makes its use questionable from an environmental and sometimes economic point of view.

The company Bioret-Agri has developed a mattress for water stalls that can be cooled in summer to both improve the thermal comfort of the cattle and to recover the calories produced to, for example, dry fodder, preheat washing water or produce energy thanks to methanisers. Feedback from users suggests an improvement in both the welfare and milk performance of their cows, but these effects have not been scientifically evaluated.

The objective of this study is to evaluate the short and medium term effects of this mattress on the physiology, behaviour, lameness and milk production of high producing dairy cows.

To this end, a study will be conducted in a commercial farm in western France during the summer of 2021. Early lactation cows will be divided into two groups, one housed on conventional cubicle mattresses and the other on these new cubicle mattresses. Behaviour, body temperature and milk production will be continuously recorded using different monitoring systems (milking robot, accelerometer collars [Lely], thermobolus [Medria], video surveillance with artificial intelligence [AIHERD]). The cows will also be observed every 15 days to note their locomotion. Different behavioural, physiological, milk production and health parameters, in particular lameness, will be compared between the two groups. The first results are expected by the end of 2022.

Dates : 01/01/2021 – 31/12/2023



Project labelled LIT OUESTEREL

People involved in the unit

Nadine Brisseau ; Raphaël Guatteo ; Anne Lehébel ; Guillaume Morgant ; Anne Relun