There are a number of cubicle features that can affect welfare. Ideally, a cubicle will allow an animal to lie down and rest without hitting or rubbing against partitions.
An appropriate cubicle length will prevent soiling of the bedding and reduce risk of injury. Cubicles that are too short for the cow or partitions with rear support legs may cause rubbing and swelling on the hocks. A good depth and cleanliness of cubicle bedding will create comfort and also prevent knee swelling and hock injuries.
The cubicle must be wide enough for the cow to lie comfortably but narrow enough to prevent her from turning around. The cubicle also needs to provide the natural rising behaviour of the cow. Brisket boards that provide space for the cow to lunge forward when she kneels down to reach a lying position will facilitate the easy movement to lying which may prevent awkward twisting of the neck, back and front legs. The cow should not come into contact with the cubicle partition in such a way that could cause injury.
When a cow rises from a lying position, she lunges forward to transfer the weight from her hindquarters onto her front legs. She will then raise her hindquarters before raising her forequarters. To accommodate this transfer of weight, the cow thrusts her head forward as she lunges. Studies have shown that a cow requires between 0.7 and 1.0m of space in front of her to rise easily. If the forward lunging space is constrained, she will have difficulty in rising. She also throws one foot forward when rising and any barrier to this normal activity may compromise the way she raises and possibly lead to lameness and reduced cubicle occupancy.
When there is not a cubicle for every cow, lying time reduces, aggressive interactions between cows increase, incidences of lameness and mastitis both increase. Should be at least as many cubicles as there are cows in the house. However, it is essential that all cubicles are functioning by the cows. If some cubicles are less attractive or broken then it is necessary to have more than one cubicle per cow.
A paper published in the USA reported that for every 10% increase in stocking rate above 80% occupancy, there is reduction of 0.73kg milk per cow per day.
Animals which are lower in the social hierarchy spend between 10 and 45% of their day standing in the passages. As a result, subordinate cows suffer more sole, interdigital and heel lesions. Providing additional cow places in the cubicle system will allow these cows to lie without risk of aggressive interactions. Other studies have demonstrated that not all cubicles are occupied to the same degree, with some being more preferred to others. This will also result in subordinate cows standing for longer periods of time.
There is also considerable debate regarding the location of cubicles within a building and how this can affect occupancy. In a Canadian study, cubicles closest to a feed passage were occupied for 68% of the day compared with only 48% occupancy for cubicles which were further from the feed area. In addition, cubicles at the end of rows were occupied 25% less than cubicles located in the centre of the row.
This may be because the cows have to walk further to food or have to navigate certain physical barriers (narrow passages) or social obstacles dominant cows) on their way to more distant cubicles. Work carried out in Cambridge in 1990 indicated that the movement and resting of subordinate animals is heavily influenced by the location of dominant animals