Freewalk: Can Innovative Dairy Housing Systems Satisfy the Needs of Cows, Farmers and Consumers?

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal System and Management".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 July 2023) | Viewed by 24215

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Systems, University of Florence, 50145 Firenze, Italy
Interests: dairy cattle; housing systems for dairy cows; bedding materials and management; dairy farm management; animal welfare; animal behaviour; precision livestock farming

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Guest Editor
Department of Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Interests: dairy cattle well-being; management and behavior; precision livestock farming

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

FreeWalk refers to dairy housing systems that enhance the freedom of movement of the cows. Unlike in cubicle systems, cows in FreeWalk barns are provided with a large, open and freely accessible area to walk, stand and rest. Straw yards, compost bedded packs and artificial floors as well as outdoor exercise yard and (exercise) pasture are all good examples of FreeWalk systems. Recent research highlighted that FreeWalk housing has the potential to improve animal welfare. Providing large spaces and reducing physical constraints in the housing environment cows are allowed to display natural behaviour and interact freely with conspecifics. Consumer research also showed that FreeWalk housing, especially when combined with pasture access, can improve societal acceptance of dairy farming.

The aim of this Special Issue is to bring together the latest findings concerning the role of FreeWalk housing in modern dairy production systems. Original research papers, as well as literature reviews from different research areas, such as barn design, farm management, farm machinery, precision technologies, animal health, animal welfare and animal behaviour with a link to FreeWalk housing systems for dairy cows, are invited to this Special Issue. Additional topics and interdisciplinary studies regarding the environmental, economic and social impact of FreeWalk systems will also be considered.

Dr. Lorenzo Leso
Dr. Marcia I. Endres
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • dairy cattle
  • dairy production systems
  • livestock
  • housing
  • compost-bedded pack barns
  • pasture
  • animal health
  • animal welfare
  • animal behavior
  • consumer research
  • sustainability

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

13 pages, 992 KiB  
Article
Measurement of Methane and Ammonia Emissions from Compost-Bedded Pack Systems in Dairy Barns: Tilling Effect and Seasonal Variations
by Esperanza Fuertes, Joaquim Balcells, Jordi Maynegre, Gabriel de la Fuente, Laura Sarri and Ahmad Reza Seradj
Animals 2023, 13(11), 1871; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13111871 - 4 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1388
Abstract
Dairy cattle contribute to environmental harm as a source of polluting gas emissions, mainly of enteric origin, but also from manure management, which varies among housing systems. Compost-bedded pack systems use manure as bedding material, which is composted in situ daily. As current [...] Read more.
Dairy cattle contribute to environmental harm as a source of polluting gas emissions, mainly of enteric origin, but also from manure management, which varies among housing systems. Compost-bedded pack systems use manure as bedding material, which is composted in situ daily. As current literature referring to their impact on NH3 and CH4 emissions is scarce, this study aims to characterize the emissions of these two gases originating from three barns of this system, differentiating between two emission phases: static emission and dynamic emission. In addition, the experiment differentiated emissions between winter and summer. Dynamic emission, corresponding to the time of the day when the bed is being composted, increased over 3 and 60 times the static emission of NH3 and CH4, respectively. In terms of absolute emissions, both gases presented higher emissions during summer (1.86 to 4.08 g NH3 m−2 day−1 and 1.0 to 4.75 g CH4 m−2 day−1 for winter and summer, respectively). In this way, contaminant gases produced during the tilling process of the manure, especially during the warmer periods of the year, need to be taken into account as they work as a significant factor in emissions derived from compost-bedded pack systems. Full article
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21 pages, 4264 KiB  
Article
Spatial Distribution of Bedding Attributes in an Open Compost-Bedded Pack Barn System with Positive Pressure Ventilation in Brazilian Winter Conditions
by Carlos Eduardo Alves Oliveira, Ilda de Fátima Ferreira Tinôco, Victor Crespo de Oliveira, Pedro Henrique de Moura Rodrigues, Leonardo França da Silva, Flávio Alves Damasceno, Rafaella Resende Andrade, Fernanda Campos de Sousa, Matteo Barbari and Gianluca Bambi
Animals 2023, 13(5), 786; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13050786 - 21 Feb 2023
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1489
Abstract
The objective of this study was to characterize the dependence and spatial distribution of bedding attributes in an open compost-bedded pack barn (CBP) system with positive pressure ventilation during the winter period in Brazil. The study was conducted in July 2021, in the [...] Read more.
The objective of this study was to characterize the dependence and spatial distribution of bedding attributes in an open compost-bedded pack barn (CBP) system with positive pressure ventilation during the winter period in Brazil. The study was conducted in July 2021, in the Zona da Mata region, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The bedding area (shavings and wood sawdust) was divided into a mesh with 44 equidistant points. At each point, the bedding temperature at the surface (tB-sur) and at a depth of 0.2 m (tB-20) and the air velocity at bedding level (vair,B) were measured, and bedding samples were collected. The bedding samples were used to determine the moisture level and pH at the surface (MB-sur e pHB-sur) and at a depth of 0.2 m (MB-20 and pHB-20). The spatial behavior of the variables was evaluated using geostatistics techniques. For all variables, the occurrence of strong spatial dependence was verified. Through the maps, it was observed that tB-sur, tB-20, MB-sur, MB-20, and vair,B showed high spatial variability, whereas pHB-sur and pHB-20 demonstrated low variation. On the surface, values of tB-sur < 20 °C and MB-sur > 60% were observed. At the subsurface, there was a predominance of tB-20 < 40 °C, MB-20 > 60%, and pH > 9, which are indications of low bedding composting activity. Full article
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19 pages, 2949 KiB  
Article
Compost Dairy Barn Layout and Management Recommendations in Kentucky: A Descriptive Study
by Flávio Alves Damasceno, George B. Day, Joseph L. Taraba, Carlos Eduardo Alves Oliveira, Rafaella Resende Andrade, Karen Dal Magro Frigeri, Frederico Márcio Corrêa Vieira, Matteo Barbari and Gianluca Bambi
Animals 2022, 12(23), 3324; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12233324 - 28 Nov 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1555
Abstract
This study was conducted to describe the building layout and dimensions, characterize the bedding material, and observe the management practices in 42 compost-bedded pack (CBP) barns in Kentucky (USA). The average herd size found in the study was 90 cows and the breeds [...] Read more.
This study was conducted to describe the building layout and dimensions, characterize the bedding material, and observe the management practices in 42 compost-bedded pack (CBP) barns in Kentucky (USA). The average herd size found in the study was 90 cows and the breeds consisted of Jersey (6.8%), Holstein (72.7%), and mixed (20.5%). The average CBP barn dimensions were 49.1 m (length) by 21.9 m (width). Many of these barns had feed alleys and driveways; overshot ridges with frequent orientation from NE to SW; and green sawdust, kiln-dried sawdust, or a mixture of both as the most common bedding materials. The bed-turning process was performed mechanically at depths of less than 0.25 m, and the loading of fresh material was performed every one to five weeks, varying by season, weather conditions, barn size, and cow density. The average bedding moisture content was found to be 59.0% (wet bulb—w.b.) and ranged from 36.2 to 71.8%. Coliforms were not present in barns that had a higher compost temperature, and the E. coli, Bacillus, and Streptococcus counts were higher in the barns that had a lower moisture content. In conclusion, it was observed that heterogeneous management was used among the barns and that the producers were satisfied with the compost barn system. Full article
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20 pages, 2995 KiB  
Article
Compost Barns: A Bibliometric Analysis
by Gustavo Guimaraes Bessa Santos Silva, Patrícia Ferreira Ponciano Ferraz, Flávio Alves Damasceno, Maria Luísa Appendino Nunes Zotti and Matteo Barbari
Animals 2022, 12(19), 2492; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12192492 - 20 Sep 2022
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 2544
Abstract
The objective of this study was to evaluate the main scientific studies addressing the topic of compost barns in recent years, highlighting the main journals, authors, countries, organizations, and keywords associated with the publications and trends in this type of research through a [...] Read more.
The objective of this study was to evaluate the main scientific studies addressing the topic of compost barns in recent years, highlighting the main journals, authors, countries, organizations, and keywords associated with the publications and trends in this type of research through a bibliometric analysis. For this analysis, publications (articles and literature reviews) addressing compost barns were obtained from the Scopus and Web of Science databases. A total of 108 studies published between 2007 and April 2022 were included. A greater number of publications was observed starting in 2017, with 2021 having the largest number of publications. The Journal of Dairy Science was the most highly cited journal. Marcia I. Endres was the author with the greatest academic impact. The most influential country was the United States, followed by Brazil. Among the organizations that have published studies on compost barns, the Federal University of Lavras, and the University of Florence had the largest numbers of publications. In conclusion, this bibliometric analysis allowed us to evaluate the scientific evolution, research, and publishing tendencies of studies on the compost barn animal housing system, and the results make it possible to deduce current trends in scientific research and publications. Full article
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13 pages, 2705 KiB  
Article
Determination of Thermal, Chemical and Physical Properties of Bedding Materials for Compost Dairy Barns
by Flávio Alves Damasceno, George B. Day, Joseph L. Taraba, Matteo Barbari, Carlos Eduardo Alves Oliveira, Karen Dal Magro Frigeri, Frederico Márcio Corrêa Vieira and Gianluca Bambi
Animals 2022, 12(18), 2450; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182450 - 16 Sep 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1561
Abstract
The thermal, chemical, and physical properties of compost bedding materials play an important role in every phase of compost production. Based on this, we aimed to assess the thermal, chemical and physical properties of bedding materials for compost-bedded pack (CBP) barns. The database [...] Read more.
The thermal, chemical, and physical properties of compost bedding materials play an important role in every phase of compost production. Based on this, we aimed to assess the thermal, chemical and physical properties of bedding materials for compost-bedded pack (CBP) barns. The database for this study was registered from 42 CBP barns, distributed throughout the state of Kentucky (USA). The thermal conductivity showed a linear relationship with moisture content and bulk density, while thermal resistivity decreased with increasing particle size. The bedding moisture average was 46.8% (±11.5). The average finer index (p < 0.05) was the highest weight percentage (30.1%) in the samples studied. Water-holding capacity (WHC) increased with increasingly fine particle size. The higher bulk density value was 3.6 times that of the lowest bulk density value. The chemical characterization of the bedding material provided the following results: 42.7% (±3.8%) C, 1.6% (±0.4%) N, and 28.2 (±8.0) C:N ratio. However, thermal properties are strongly dependent on particle size. Producers can use the bedding material as fertilizer in their crops, due to the chemical characteristics of the materials. Beds with good physical and chemical properties improve their moisture content. Full article
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14 pages, 640 KiB  
Article
The Welfare of Dairy Cows in Pasture, Free Stall, and Compost Barn Management Systems in a Brazilian Subtropical Region
by Paula de Andrade Kogima, Taciana Aparecida Diesel, Frederico Márcio Correa Vieira, Ana Luiza Bachmann Schogor, Alana Aparecida Volpini, Géssica Jaine Veloso, Patrícia Ferreira Ponciano Ferraz and Maria Luísa Appendino Nunes Zotti
Animals 2022, 12(17), 2215; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12172215 - 28 Aug 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2290
Abstract
The effect of milk production systems on the welfare of dairy cows has been studied worldwide, but studies that compare pasture-based, compost barn, and free stall systems, according to animal welfare, are more scarce. In this work, the welfare of 51 dairy herds, [...] Read more.
The effect of milk production systems on the welfare of dairy cows has been studied worldwide, but studies that compare pasture-based, compost barn, and free stall systems, according to animal welfare, are more scarce. In this work, the welfare of 51 dairy herds, including 17 from each management system, was investigated through the application of the Welfare Quality® protocol. Descriptive statistics and the Kruskal–Wallis non-parametric method were used to analyze variables. In the present work, the welfare of the evaluated herds was significantly better in the pasture-based system than in the confinement systems. However, the pasture-based system presented weaknesses in providing water resources. The compost barn had fewer animal welfare critical points than the free stall system, as well as it was better than the free stall in measures related to comfort and health. The free stall did not present better scores than the other systems. It is concluded that the welfare of dairy cows is affected by the rearing system, with better scores, in most measures, in the pasture-based system, followed by the compost barn and, finally, the free stall. Full article
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20 pages, 3556 KiB  
Article
Mapping of the Thermal Microenvironment for Dairy Cows in an Open Compost-Bedded Pack Barn System with Positive-Pressure Ventilation
by Carlos Eduardo Alves Oliveira, Ilda de Fátima Ferreira Tinôco, Flávio Alves Damasceno, Victor Crespo de Oliveira, Gabriel Araújo e Silva Ferraz, Fernanda Campos de Sousa, Rafaella Resende Andrade and Matteo Barbari
Animals 2022, 12(16), 2055; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12162055 - 12 Aug 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1722
Abstract
The objective of this study was to evaluate and characterize the dependence and the spatial and temporal distribution of variables and indices of the thermal environment in an open compost-bedded pack barn system with positive-pressure ventilation (CBPPV) during the winter period. The study [...] Read more.
The objective of this study was to evaluate and characterize the dependence and the spatial and temporal distribution of variables and indices of the thermal environment in an open compost-bedded pack barn system with positive-pressure ventilation (CBPPV) during the winter period. The study was conducted in a CBPPV system located in the Zona da Mata region, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The indoor environment was divided into a mesh composed of 55 equidistant points, where data on dry-bulb air temperature (tdb) and relative humidity (RH) were collected. The collected data were divided into four periods—dawn, morning, afternoon, and night—and mean values were obtained. To evaluate the thermal microenvironment, the temperature and humidity index (THI) and the specific enthalpy of air (h) were used. For spatial dependence analysis, geostatistical techniques were applied. Through the results, a strong spatial dependence was verified for all variables evaluated. Through THI and h maps, conditions of thermal comfort were found for dairy cattle. The highest values of tdb, THI, and h were recorded in the afternoon period in the northwest region of the facility (tdb = 23.2 °C, THI = 69.7, and h = 50.9 kJ∙kg of dry air−1). Full article
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11 pages, 2228 KiB  
Article
Views of Consumers, Farmers and Stakeholders on Alternative Dairy Cattle Housing Systems
by Karmen Erjavec and Marija Klopčič
Animals 2022, 12(10), 1231; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12101231 - 10 May 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1924
Abstract
Alternative housing systems for dairy cattle have recently emerged, such as compost-bedded packs and artificial floor ones. To determine their acceptability among categories of people with a connection to animal husbandry, this study aimed to identify and compare the acceptability of (alternative) housing [...] Read more.
Alternative housing systems for dairy cattle have recently emerged, such as compost-bedded packs and artificial floor ones. To determine their acceptability among categories of people with a connection to animal husbandry, this study aimed to identify and compare the acceptability of (alternative) housing systems and attitudes to aspects of housing systems for dairy cattle among Slovenian consumers, farmers, and stakeholders. Farmers (N = 306), consumers (N = 508), and stakeholders (N = 40) were interviewed about their views on the main aspects (animals, farmers, products, environment) of housing systems for dairy cattle, the acceptance of four housing systems, and important housing features. The results show that consumers, stakeholders, and conventional farmers preferred housing systems with an artificial floor, while organic farmers preferred a housing system with a compost-bedded pack. Consumers and organic farmers expressed the greatest acceptance of almost every aspect of the housing system, except for a sufficient income for farmers and a low workload. Conventional farmers and stakeholders hold similar views, except for the expectation that the animals have enough space to move around, the image of the landscape, and the animals’ health and wellbeing, where stakeholders showed more acceptance than conventional farmers. The results imply that systematically planned information aimed at different target categories is needed to increase the acceptance of (alternative) housing systems for cattle. Full article
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9 pages, 236 KiB  
Article
Effect of a High Welfare Floor and a Concrete Slatted Floor on the Growth Performance, Behavior and Cleanliness of Charolais and Limousin Heifers: A Case Study
by Jakob Leskovec, Mojca Voljč and Silvester Žgur
Animals 2022, 12(7), 859; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12070859 - 29 Mar 2022
Viewed by 1717
Abstract
Various floor systems are used in cattle housing with different characteristics in terms of roughness, abrasion, wetness, bedding material, ease of cleaning, etc. Thus, the activity and welfare of the animals are greatly influenced by the type of floor. The floor of the [...] Read more.
Various floor systems are used in cattle housing with different characteristics in terms of roughness, abrasion, wetness, bedding material, ease of cleaning, etc. Thus, the activity and welfare of the animals are greatly influenced by the type of floor. The floor of the barn can influence the development of health diseases, technopathies and the production and quality of animal products. Therefore, in the present case study, we studied the effects of two different flooring systems on the performance and on some behavioral and cleanliness parameters in heifers. Two floor systems (concrete slatted flooring (CSF) and high welfare flooring (HWF)) and two breeds (Charolais and Limousin) were used in the experiment. Heifers on HWF tended to show a higher frequency of grooming, rubbing and aggression than those on CSF, but not of standing, lying, eating, drinking, rumination, resting, stereotypies and covering of the animals. In addition, animals housed on HWF also appeared to show higher cleanliness than those housed on CSF. Results indicated that animals housed on HWF exhibited more social and self-care behaviors, suggesting that animals housed on such floors show more species-specific behaviors and have higher welfare. Full article
9 pages, 260 KiB  
Article
Animal Health in Compost-Bedded Pack and Cubicle Dairy Barns in Six European Countries
by Ulf Emanuelson, Kerstin Brügemann, Marija Klopčič, Lorenzo Leso, Wijbrand Ouweltjes, Andreas Zentner and Isabel Blanco-Penedo
Animals 2022, 12(3), 396; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12030396 - 7 Feb 2022
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 2663
Abstract
The purpose of this study was to compare animal health in compost-bedded pack (CBP) and cubicle housing (CH) systems using data from dairy herd improvement associations. Thirty-two commercial dairy farms located in Austria, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, and Sweden were included in [...] Read more.
The purpose of this study was to compare animal health in compost-bedded pack (CBP) and cubicle housing (CH) systems using data from dairy herd improvement associations. Thirty-two commercial dairy farms located in Austria, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, and Sweden were included in the study. A matching design (pairing CBP and CH within country) according to herd selection criteria was used. We explored the following health indicators: somatic cell counts (SCC), high SCC, new high SCC, ketosis risk, prolonged calving intervals, dystocia, and stillbirth. Traits for culling and culling-related issues, such as length of life and length of productive life, were also included. We used multivariable (mixed) linear and logistic regression models to evaluate differences between the systems. Udder health, as measured by SCC, was inferior in CBP, although the geometric means were low in both systems. The incidence of stillbirths was higher in CBP, while prolonged calving intervals were fewer, indicating that there were fewer reproductive disorders. There were no differences in longevity between the systems, although CBP had lower proportions of first calvers. Overall, we conclude that there were few and minor differences in health and longevity between the CBP and CH systems in the European context. Full article
9 pages, 2272 KiB  
Article
Effects of Compost-Bedded Pack Barn on Circulating Cortisol and Beta-Endorphins in Dairy Cows: A Case Study
by Rosangela Odore, Ilaria Biasato, Giulia Gardini, Antonio D’Angelo and Claudio Bellino
Animals 2021, 11(11), 3318; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11113318 - 20 Nov 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1684
Abstract
The up-to-date literature suggests that the compost-bedded pack barn housing system is capable of remarkably improving productive and reproductive performance, as well as health status and welfare, in dairy cattle. However, there is currently limited knowledge available on the endocrine and biochemical changes [...] Read more.
The up-to-date literature suggests that the compost-bedded pack barn housing system is capable of remarkably improving productive and reproductive performance, as well as health status and welfare, in dairy cattle. However, there is currently limited knowledge available on the endocrine and biochemical changes in animals housed in such alternative systems. Therefore, this study aimed to measure blood cortisol (COR) and beta-endorphins (BE) in 22 two-year-old primiparae Fleckvieh cows, who were randomly allotted to the following two different housing systems: CB (n = 11) and FB (n = 11). Blood samples were collected at the beginning of the experiment (T0) and every two months thereafter (T1, T2, and T3). The COR and BE were measured through an immunoenzymatic kit. With the only exception being T0, no differences were observed over time between the two groups, neither for COR nor for BE. However, the blood cortisol levels of the CB cows decreased over time, while a T1 peak was identified in the FB group. On the contrary, both the housing systems displayed numerically higher BE at T3 than at the other experimental times. Therefore, the overall data suggest that the compost-bedded pack barn did not significantly affect the studied parameters. Accordingly, cow welfare should be assessed using a wider panel of animal-based indicators. Full article
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19 pages, 2515 KiB  
Article
Identification of Thermophilic Aerobic Sporeformers in Bedding Material of Compost-Bedded Dairy Cows Using Microbial and Molecular Methods
by Isabella J. Giambra, Yeasmin Jahan, Tong Yin, Petra Engel, Christina Weimann, Kerstin Brügemann and Sven König
Animals 2021, 11(10), 2890; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11102890 - 4 Oct 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1989
Abstract
Compost-bedded pack barns (CBP) are of increasing interest in dairy farming due to their positive effect on animal welfare. The temperature and the moisture content of the bedding material characterising the composting process can promote the growth of thermophilic aerobic sporeformers (TAS). Therefore, [...] Read more.
Compost-bedded pack barns (CBP) are of increasing interest in dairy farming due to their positive effect on animal welfare. The temperature and the moisture content of the bedding material characterising the composting process can promote the growth of thermophilic aerobic sporeformers (TAS). Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine CBP bedding material characteristics, such as moisture content and temperature, and to determine TAS species. The dilution, the heat inactivation of all non-TAS species and the incubation of 13 bedding samples from four CBP groups resulted in a mean TAS amount over all samples of 4.11 log10 cfu/g bedding material. Based on the subsequent sequencing of parts of the 16S rRNA-gene of 99 TAS colonies, the TAS species Aneurinibacillus thermoaerophilus, Bacillus licheniformis, Geobacillus thermodenitrificans, Laceyella sacchari, Thermoactinomyces vulgaris and Ureibacillus thermosphaericus were identified. The moisture content of the bedding material, the relative humidity above the bedding material and the sampling season significantly affected the amount of TAS. The moisture content or relative humidity above the bedding material significantly influenced the concentration of Ureibacillus thermophaericus or Laceyella sacchari. Consequently, an optimal CBP management including a dry lying surface and an optimal composting process will contribute to a moderate microbial, especially TAS amount, and TAS species distribution. Full article
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