You know that animals need some time to adjust when moved to free-stall facilities for the first time, but there’s been little research to explain what’s really going on. So, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada decided to find out.
They put 21 three-month-old Holstein heifers into seven groups. The heifers had no experience with free-stalls and were initially housed on a sawdust bedded pack and fed through a fixed feed barrier for at least six weeks, then moved to a free-stall facility with head-locks.
According to results published in the April Journal of Dairy Science, on the day the heifers were moved to the free-stall pen, lying times declined by 2.9 hours, but recovered on the following days. The heifers also spent 2.5 more hours lying down on the barn floor (rather than in stalls) on the first day in the new pen. This remained higher during subsequent days. The heifers also spent 46 fewer minutes per day feeding on the day they were switched to the free-stall pen with head locks, but recovered soon after.
Then the researchers split 24 heifers into 12 groups of two animals each and introduced them to pens with free-stalls with or without a neck rail. Heifers in this experiment spent 4.2 hours less per day lying down during the first day in their new pen. The neck rail didn’t have an effect on lying time, but researchers noted that heifers spent more time standing with just their front two hooves in the stall when a neck rail was present.
The researchers say that the results suggest that animals are not able to adapt immediately to new conditions, and will require patience on your part to help them make the transition.