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A randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of indoor living space on dairy cow production, reproduction and behaviour

Thompson, Jake S.; Hudson, Christopher D.; Huxley, Jonathan N.; Kaler, Jasmeet; Robinson, Robert S.; Woad, Kathryn J.; Bollard, Nicola; Gibbons, Jenny; Green, Martin J.

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Jake S. Thompson

Professor of Dairy Herd Health and Production

Jonathan N. Huxley

Professor of Epidemiology & Precision Livestock Informatics

Assistant Professor

Nicola Bollard

Jenny Gibbons

Professor of Cattle Health & Epidemiology


As a global society, we have a duty to provide suitable care and conditions for farmed livestock to protect animal welfare and ensure the sustainability of our food supply. The suitability and biological impacts of housing conditions for intensively farmed animals is a complex and emotive subject, yet poorly researched, meaning quantitative evidence to inform policy and legislation is lacking. Most dairy cows globally are housed for some duration during the year, largely when climatic conditions are unfavourable. However, the impact on biology, productivity and welfare of even the most basic housing requirement, the quantity of living space, remains unknown. We conducted a long-term (1-year), randomised controlled trial (CONSORT 10 guidelines) to investigate the impact of increased living space (6.5m2 vs 3m2 per animal) on critical aspects of cow biology, behaviour and productivity. Adult Holstein dairy cows (n = 150) were continuously and randomly allocated to a high or control living space group with all other aspects of housing remaining identical between groups. Compared to cows in the control living space group, cows with increased space produced more milk per 305d lactation (primiparous: 12,235L vs 11,592L, P < 0.01; multiparous: 14,746L vs 14,644L, P < 0.01) but took longer to become pregnant after calving (primiparous: 155d vs 83d, P = 0.025; multiparous: 133d vs 109d). In terms of behaviour, cows with more living space spent significantly more time in lying areas (65min/d difference; high space group: 12.43h/day, 95% CI = 11.70-13.29; control space group: 11.42h/day, 95% CI = 10.73-12.12) and significantly less time in passageways (64min/d), suggesting enhanced welfare when more space was provided. A key physiological difference between groups was that cows with more space spent longer ruminating each day. This is the first long term study in dairy cows to demonstrate that increased living space results in meaningful benefits in terms of productivity and behaviour and suggests that the interplay between farmed animals and their housed environment plays an important role in the concepts of welfare and sustainability of dairy farming.


Thompson, J. S., Hudson, C. D., Huxley, J. N., Kaler, J., Robinson, R. S., Woad, K. J., …Green, M. J. (2022). A randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of indoor living space on dairy cow production, reproduction and behaviour. Scientific Reports, 12(1), Article 3849.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 23, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 9, 2022
Publication Date Mar 9, 2022
Deposit Date Mar 18, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 18, 2022
Journal Scientific reports
Electronic ISSN 2045-2322
Publisher Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 1
Article Number 3849
Keywords Multidisciplinary
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 26 October 2021; Accepted: 23 February 2022; First Online: 9 March 2022; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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