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First MSc Results from our Chair!!

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

We are excited and proud to announce that MSc candidate Jessica St John has done a wonderful job presenting the findings for her research study on tie-rail position for her results seminar today!

Jessica's presentation marks a milestone for the Cowlife team - our first official results seminar of the research chair! We look forward to many more to come.

To provide you, our dearest followers, with a preview of the cumulation of Jess's hard work, we have her thesis abstract for you to enjoy. A taste of the scientific publications to come, so stay tuned!

Do what comes naturally: Does positioning the tie-rail to follow the natural neck line of cows when eating and rising improve the welfare of cows housed in tie-stall barns?

Approximately 74% of dairy farms in Canada and 92.8% of dairy farms in Quebec are tie-stall barns1. Epidemiological studies have found that tie-stall design may have an effect on dairy cow welfare, such as body injuries and lying time2,3, but few experimental studies have investigated ways to improve cow comfort through tie-stall design. A recent epidemiological study found that when current recommendation for tie-rail height is met or exceeded, the risk of neck injuries and lameness increased and lying time and bout frequency decreased3. However, when tie-rail met or exceeded current recommendation for tie-rail forward position there was a reduced risk of neck and knee injuries and lameness and increase in lying time and bout frequency, but there was an increased risk of dirty udders3. Therefore, our objective was to develop new recommendations for tie-rail placement combining both vertical and horizontal positions to improve dairy cow welfare and help farmers meet their targets for the animal care assessment implemented by the Dairy Farmers of Canada through the proAction® initiative.

For this study we tested two new tie-rail positions that follow the natural neck line of dairy cows when they are feeding and rising, as it is likely cows come into contact with the tie-rail during these events. Thus, four treatments were tested: two new tie-rail positions that follow the neck line of cows (N1, N2), current recommendation (CR), and the tie-rail position commonly found on farm (CF). All other stall dimensions followed current recommendation based on cow size4,5. Forty-eight cows blocked by parity and stage of lactation were divided between two start dates and randomly allocated to a treatment for 10 weeks. Live scoring was performed weekly to evaluate: injury, cow and stall cleanliness, bedding quantity, and body condition. Lameness scoring was performed weekly through video observation. Milk yields were recorded at each milking and milk samples were collected weekly to evaluate milk components. Feeding/rumination time was recorded continuously for 24 cows equally distributed across treatments, using ear-mounted activity data loggers. Resting behaviour, such as daily lying time, lying bout frequency, and duration of lying bouts were continuously recorded using leg mounted accelerometers. Cows were recorded 1 d/wk by overhead cameras and 6 lying and rising events were evaluated per recording. Differences over time were analyzed using a mixed model with a Scheffé adjustment for multiple comparisons and a Dunnett adjustment to compare N1, N2, and CF to CR.

The tie-rail positions tested did not have an effect on cow and stall cleanliness, bedding quantity, body condition, lameness, milk yield and components, feeding/rumination time, rising and lying ability, and resting behaviour. However, CR (difference from wk 0: +0.9 ± 0.16) had an increase in proximal neck injuries compared to N2 (+0.1 ± 0.15; P ≤ 0.05). Whereas, N2 (+0.8 ± 0.16) and N1 (+0.5 ± 0.16) had an increase in medial neck injuries compared to the CR (-0.1 ± 0.18; P ≤ 0.05). All treatments showed a decrease over time in average lying intention time (-5.9 s/event; P ≤ 0.05), lying-down time (-1.1 s/event; P ≤ 0.05), contact with stall (-32.5 %; P ≤ 0.05) and slipping (-9.4 %; P ≤ 0.05) during lying motion. All treatments showed a decrease over time in average backwards movement on knees (-10.8 %; P ≤ 0.05) and contact with tie-rail (-14.3 %; P ≤ 0.05) during rising motion and overall abnormal rising (-15.7 %; P ≤ 0.05). Although, lying and rising ability improved over time the prevalence of abnormal lying and rising was still high in the long-term for all treatments. For example, in the long-term cows still came in contact with the stall dividers or tie-rail 42.3% of the time during lying motion.

Results suggest that the injury location on the neck shifts based on tie-rail placement. Also, for all tie-rail positions lying and rising ability improved over time, however abnormal lying and rising behavior is still highly prevalent across treatments. Thus, further research on tie-stall design is needed, specifically to reduce neck injuries alternatives to metal tie-rail bars such as a bar made of more flexible material or a position that limits contact between cow and tie-rail should investigated.



1. Government of Canada, Canadian Dairy Information Centre (CDIC). (2017). The Farm, Types of Dairy Barns. Retrieved August 07, 2018 from:

2. Zurbrigg, K., D. Kelton, N. Anderson and S. Millman. (2005). Tie-stall design and its relationship to lameness, injury, and cleanliness on 317 Ontario dairy farms. J Dairy Sci. 88: 3201-3210.

3. Bouffard, V., A.M. de Passillé, J. Rushen, E. Vasseur, C.G.R., D.B. Haley and D. Pellerin. (2017). Effect of following recommendations for tiestall configuration on neck and leg lesions, lameness, cleanliness, and lying time in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 100: 2935-2943.

4. National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). (2009). Code of practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle. Retrieved August 07, 2018 from:

5. Anderson, N. (2014). Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Dairy cow comfort tie-stall dimensions. Retrieved August 07, 2018 from:


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