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Scientists to Develop Self-Operated Cow Maternity Pens

By Amanda Brodhagen,

 In an effort to improve animal welfare for pregnant dairy cows that are ready to calve (give birth), researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark, in partnership with the company Jyden Bur, are working to develop a one of a kind, self-operated maternity pen.

The concept is simple – to provide a safe place for a cow to calve. Cows naturally like to isolate themselves from the rest of the herd prior to giving birth, and the self-operated maternity pen would encourage a cows’ desire to have her calf in an undisturbed area.

Scientists foresee that a self-operated cow maternity pen could reduce the risk of calving difficulties. A win-win for the cow and the farmer, as a pen would enhance animal welfare housing options which may also result in reduced labour costs. Researchers predict some of the expected benefits to include less production diseases and lower veterinary costs.

The project will examine the key features of a shelter that would encourage a cow to want to seek an isolated area before calving. In order to accomplish this, researchers will study housing pregnant cows in experimental pens, where the cows can choose between several different calving areas. This will aid researchers in determining which pen designs are preferred.

Calving pen design and a self-shutting gate will be developed and tested. A significant requirement of the project is that the self-operated cow maternity pen only allow one cow in at a time, allowing the cow to remain by herself during and following the calving process.

When the calving pen and gate mechanism have been designed, the concept will then be tested on a working dairy farm.

The trial will observe approximately 75 cows (in each concept) – the new housing system featuring the self-operated maternity cow pen, and a control group. At this stage, additional studies will be examined into factors including - calving difficulties, production diseases, calf mortality

Interestingly, a new law in Denmark requires that calving must take place in an individual pen and that the cow and calf need to spend the first few hours after birth together. But as most farmers would understand, it’s sometimes difficult to predict when a cow will calve. This uncertainty can sometimes result in less than ideal welfare conditions due to calving complications, which increase the risk of dystocia, metritis, and in worst cases - calf mortality

The research project is expected to conclude in 2017.

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