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Maria Hellgren


Master programme student Ht-2003 – Vt-2005

University of Linköping


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Thesis abstract

The aim of this study was to compare behaviour in the two most common types of housing for dairy cattle in Sweden, tie-stall and loose-house. The tie-stall was of the so-called short-stall model and the loose-house of the cubicle model. It was assumed that the pasture would reflect the most natural behaviour, so it was used as a baseline. The overall hypothesis was that there would be higher welfare in the loose-house than in the tie-stall since the cows can move around freely in the loose-house. The behavioural observations were divided into five situations; pasture, loose-house after intake, tie-stall after intake, loose-house during autumn and tie-stall during autumn. Observations were conducted both on individual behaviours and group synchronisation. The loose-house does not seem to invite to the same behavioural pattern as on pasture, there where lower group synchronisation, less activity and almost no mounting (heat behaviour) in the loose-house. Some of the behavioural differences seen in the indoor housing systems indicated welfare problems. There was significantly higher frequency of the possibly stereotypic behaviour, stepping and lying-down difficulties in the tie-stall. In the loose-house there was a tendency for lower group synchronisation, higher heart rate, shorter eating duration and more rising up difficulties. The problems in the tie-stall could though be considered as more severe. Heart rate measures were made to see if there was any difference in stress between the different milking procedures in the systems. No differences in heart rate were found.

Keywords: behaviour, dairy cattle, heart rate, loose-house, milking, pasture, tie-stall

Behavioural effects of housing in dairy cows


In Sweden there are mainly two types of housing systems for dairy cows used, tie-stalls and loose-houses. In a tie-stall are the cows tied by the neck next to the foddertable while they can move around freely in a loose-house. The freedom of movement in the loose-house probably gives them better opportunities to perform their natural behaviour while they can be restricted by the tie in the tie-stall. Apart from these housing systems are Swedish cows kept on pasture for 2-4 months each summer, there they are free from all kinds of restriction. The aim of this study was to compare the cow behaviour in the loose-house with the tie-stall to see if there are any behavioural problems.

A loose-house of the cubicle model with stalls to lie on, a passageway with slatted, a feeding automat for concentrated feed and a foddertable for roughage.
A loose-house cow are milked in a milking parlour.
A tie-stall of the short-stall model where the cow have to keep the head over the foddertable in order to have room for lying and standing. They receive both the concentrated feed and the roughage at the foddertable.
Two cows are milked in the tie-stall.


Observations of individual behaviours and group synchronisation were made in both the tie-stall and the loose-house. These were then compared to the behaviour on pasture, since it could be considered as the most natural. Intensive behaviour observations were made right after the intake from pasture, in both systems, to see if the intake caused stress. There were also heart rate measurements made in the tie-stall and the loose-house. These measurements were made before, during and after the milking.

A cow which are wearing the heart rate monitor.

Results and discussion

• There was a tendency for less activity in the loose-house than in the tie-stall. When the cows were active they were mostly eating, thus the time spent eating was probably shorter in the loose-house. This could be considered as a problem since it is natural for cows to eat for long periods, the highest activity, and thereby the longest eating duration, was seen on pasture.

• Despite the low activity in the loose-house was there a tendency for higher heart rate than in the tie-stall. This implies that the cows in the loose-house could be more stressed than the tie-stall cows.

• Cows rise up and lye down by a special movement pattern which is innate. It is very important that the cow has the possibility to perform this movement without disturbance. In this study there was a tendency for more difficult rising-ups in the loose-house while they had considerably more difficulties lying-down in the tie-stall. Thus, there were problems in both housing systems with this behaviour.

• When the cows were on pasture they had a high group synchronisation (they tended to perform the same behaviour at the same time). In the housing systems there was a tendency for lower group synchronisation in the loose-house than in the tie-stall. There was lower synchronisation in both than on pasture, thus a high synchronisation could be considered as more natural.

• When animals are stressed and not comfortable with their situation they can develop stress related behaviours. In this study it was seen that the cows were standing at the same spot lifting and setting down their legs, stepping, for long periods of time. Stepping is probably a stress related behaviour and thereby a problem. It was performed considerably more in the tie-stall than in the loose-house.

• In the tie-stall there were some differences in behaviour seen just after intake in comparison to the autumn. The frequency of explorative behaviours and difficult lie-downs were higher. High frequencies of explorative behaviours could be caused by poor stimulation and decreased possibilities of social contact. Thus, both these differences could be behavioural problems.

• The problems with low activity, low group synchronisation and difficult rising ups were seen in the tie-stall as well but not to the same extent as in the loose-house.


From this study it was concluded that there are behavioural problems in both the tie-stall and the loose-house. The problems in the tie-stall could though be considered as more severe. In the tie-stall there were also behavioural differences seen in connection to the intake from pasture. It was also concluded that the loose-house, despite the freedom of movement, does not seem to invite to the same behavioural pattern as on pasture.

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Last updated: 06/09/05