Please cite as: Weary, D.M. & Tucker, C. 2003. The science of cow comfort. Proceedings of the Joint Meeting of
the Ontario Agri Business Association and the Ontario Association of Bovine Practitioners, Guelph, Ont., April,
The science of cow comfort
Daniel M. Weary and Cassandra B. Tucker
Animal Welfare Program, University of British Columbia
2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4
Take home messages
• Achieving genuine improvements in housing for dairy cattle requires methodologies that
accurately reflect the impact of the housing on the animal.
• We review three approaches to the study of cow comfort: measures of injuries, preference
testing and measures of usage, namely standing and lying behaviour.
• For each approach a level of sophistication is required to avoid pitfalls. We discuss how
inadequate controls and inappropriate measures can provide misleading results.
Although ‘cow comfort’ is becoming a common buzzword among dairy producers and
professionals, research on how housing features affect cattle is still in is infancy and only a few
scientists are working actively in this area. Given the lack of research on animal housing, it is not
surprising that dairy producers are faced with a bewildering range of recommendations. For
example, recommendations for free-stall dimensions vary widely in producer-oriented articles;
Schoonmaker (1999) suggested that stalls for adult Holsteins should be between 120 -130 cm in
width and 255 –270 cm in length, whereas Leonard et al. (1997) recommended a width of only
111 cm and a length of 222 cm for adult cows. Some authors recommend sand bedding (e.g.
Bickert, 2000) while many farmers still use sawdust or straw. Unfortunately, many
recommendations have little scientific basis, and some that do are derived from basic work done
20-50 years ago that may not be relevant to the modern dairy cow.
Our group and a few others worldwide have begun to apply modern techniques to the scientific
study of cow comfort. In this paper, we describe some of the research