Brisket board: yes or no?
The brisket board is meant to help position the cow as she lies down. It should be placed >180 cm from the rear curb, the top of the brisket board should not be more than 10 cm above the top of the rear curb. The brisket board should be smooth to prevent skin abrasions. A well-designed and placed brisket board allows an easier placement of the neck rail. Thus, less restriction in lying down and rising movements. However, a free-stall can very well be designed without a brisket board in order to increase cow comfort.
Bedding serves two purposes. Firstly, it softens the floor in order to improve comfort and welfare of the cow. Secondly, it keeps the cows and the area they lie on clean. The comfort of a stall will depend greatly on the type and quality of flooring in the stall. Optimal flooring should provide adequate thermal insulation (depending on the temperature), an appropriate degree of softness, an appropriate degree of friction, a low risk of abrasion and should be easy to maintain and clean.
Bedding should be soft
Soft bedding is very important for cattle. One has to realize that cows drop on one of their front knees when they are going to lie down. Because there is not much subcutaneous fat, there is no dampening of the force, resulting in a rather painful event for the cow if the floor is hard. One can test the softness of the bedding by letting oneself drop quickly on his knees (knee test). If it hurts for the farmer, it will hurt for the cow as well. This is usually a good way of convincing farmers to improve the bedding.
Bedding should be dry and clean
Cows prefer dry bedding over wet material. Furthermore, bedding should be dry in order to prevent the growth of bacteria. It is therefore important to cover soft cow mattresses with a thin layer of sawdust or ground limestone, just to keep it dry. Adequate ventilation helps to keep the bedding dry. Doing the knee test for softness, one can stay on the bedding for 10 seconds, with all the weight on one knee. If the knee remains dry, the bedding can be considered as dry enough. In general, a regular (minimal twice a day) cleaning and refreshing of the bedding is required.
Bedding material should be inorganic
Most bedding material is made of organic compounds and, therefore, a risk factor for the growth of bacteria. A high bacteria count in the bedding can be a risk factor for the development of mastitis. Furthermore, it induces a higher bacterial count in the bulk milk as well. Bedding can be made a like a mattress or waterbed. Or it can be composed of loose material like straw, sawdust, wood chips, composted vegetable wastes or manure, sand, ground limestone, shredded paper, wood shavings, etc. Sand and ground limestone are the only materials that are inorganic and that can have low bacterial counts.
It is van Eerdenburg’s belief that many free-stalls are designed with people in mind, rather the cows. Click here for a video interview with van Eerdenburg.