Risk factors for lameness in cubicle housed Austrian Simmental dairy cows
Austrian dairy farming is characterised by predominant use of Simmental cows on smallscale farms. Our aim was to identify lameness risk factors related to housing and management in cubicle housed Austrian dairy cows. Furthermore, we used animal-based parameters (ABP) as integrated measures of cubicle quality and feeding management. The first author visited 30 farms in eastern Austria with 2454 cows (mean = 35) in the milking herd during winter housing period, and collected data on housing, management, behaviour, and lameness via direct observations and an interview (part of Welfare Quality project). Mean lameness prevalence was 31% (range 670%). Data were analysed using logistic regression with generalised estimating equations (GEE). The finalmodel was based on 832 cows and included six risk variables, five ABP, and the significant confounders county and lactation number. Odds for lameness increased with decreasing lying comfort, except for cubicle width. The following lying-related factors were significant in the final model (odds ratios (OR) in brackets): mats/mattresses as opposed to deep bedded cubicle base (1.61), length of lying area (OR 186191 vs.<178 cm = 0.72) and cubicle width (1.18). Lying-related ABP included abnormal lying behaviour (1.36), cow comfort index (0.76), and duration of rising (2.17). Other significant housing and management characteristics included slatted flooring (1.31), herd size (0.63), and no access to an outdoor loafing area (0.57). Regarding metabolic parameters, cows with a body condition score >3.5 had at least 0.39 lower odds of being lame, while cows with suboptimal milk protein content (<3.2% or >3.8%) had 1.37 times higher odds. Odds for lameness clearly increased with age (OR lactation >4 vs. 1 = 3.38). In sum, lying comfort and nutrition are key areas for lameness prevention on modern dairy farms in Austria with herd sizes above 30 cows.