Moisture can create muddy surfaces on pasture or in housing systems such as drylots and bedded packs. Dairy cattle show signs of increased stress in rainy and windy conditions, but previous research had not separated the effects of inclement weather from muddy ground conditions.
We housed pregnant cows and heifers in dirt-floored enclosures to evaluate the effects of muddy ground conditions on their lying behavior, dirtiness, and physiological responses.
Our results were hardly clear as mud! Rather, our cattle made it clear that they were reluctant to lie down on muddy surfaces. In fact, they often chose to lie down on the concrete floor in front of the feed trough instead, even though past research has shown that cows typically avoid lying on concrete. Previous studies have also found that it is important for cows to spend over half of their day lying down, but when the ground was muddier, our cattle spent more time standing up.
Our results show that – even in the absence of rain or wind – muddy ground surfaces have negative effects on the comfort and welfare of dairy cattle.
For our other findings, check out our paper in Journal of Dairy Science or listen to my 4-minute narrated slideshow explaining our study:
Jennifer M. Chen, Carolyn L. Stull, David N. Ledgerwood, and Cassandra B. Tucker. 2017. Muddy conditions reduce hygiene and lying time in dairy cattle and increase time spent on concrete. Journal of Dairy Science 100:2090-21036. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-11972.