Tie-stalls Are on the HSUS Attack List
Posted: December 15, 2009
We are all aware of the recent passage of Proposition 2 which banned the use of veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates in California. Tie-stalls for dairy cows may not be far behind if the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has its way. Dairy Herd Management6 recently summarized the top concerns presented at the Cal Poly Dairy Symposium by Paul Shapiro of HSUS. Dehorning without pain killers, rBST, “hyperproductivity” and downer cows were part of the list. So were tie-stalls. That probably didn’t cause much of a stir in California, but banning tie-stalls would be devastating to the majority of Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers.
Tie-stalls make an easy target for HSUS because the fact that cows are not free to leave their stall is obvious. It’s debatable whether this degrades cow welfare when compared to the alternatives of exposure to desert conditions, standing and walking on hard, wet surfaces and competing for free-stall space. Additionally, there are several measures of cow welfare where tie-stall herds have very clear advantages.
Cow mortality rates:
Two recent studies have compared mortality rates in tie-stall herds versus other herd types. One was a nationwide summary of results from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) dairy survey5 and the other was Pennsylvania DHI data2. In both cases, tie-stalls herds had significantly lower levels of mortality than the other systems considered. This was true despite the fact that tie-stalls had older cows in the Pennsylvania study.
Cows in tie-stalls generally stand on a clean-dry surface, which results in significantly less lameness1.
Cow behavioral restrictions underlie much concern about tie-stalls, but it is largely our tie-stall herds, ironically, that provide cows with the one thing behavior research shows they clearly prefer – pasture access4. A majority of PA herds with fewer than 100 cows were reported to allow pasture access and house cows in tie-stalls, whereas a minority of herds with more than 100 cows allowed pasture access2.
Pennsylvania farms are second-to-none when it comes to caring for their cows. In a comparison among 10 states, PA had the lowest proportion of cows leaving due to the combination of death and poor health3. That doesn’t happen by accident. However, we should not expect that fact to stop HSUS and their allies from going after tie-stalls, and we should not expect competitors from other states to point this out to them. In fact, some see the elimination of tie-stalls as a relatively painless animal welfare concession. Let’s not forget that it was HSUS that introduced Proposition 2 in California, or that HSUS is actively trying to get similar restrictions passed in Ohio. We need to vigorously defend our track record when it comes to animal welfare, and we need to be proactive about communicating that message. We might even find that there are competitive advantages to be had for Pennsylvania dairy farmers due to heightened animal welfare awareness.
2Dechow, C. D., and R. C. Goodling. 2008. The association of mortality and 60 day culling rates with housing, feeding and pasture systems. J. Dairy Sci. 91: (Abstr.). ADSA-ASAS Joint Annual Meeting. Indianapolis, IN. July 7-11.
5McConnel, C. S., J. E. Lombard, B. A. Wagner, and F. B. Garry. 2008. Evaluation of factors associated with increased dairy cow mortality on United States dairy operations. J. Dairy Sci. 91:1423–1432.
6Pierce, M. 2009. Up-close and personal with animal welfare. Dairy Herd Management.
Chad Dechow, Associate Professor of Dairy Cattle Genetics, Department of Dairy and Animal Science