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Twenty years ago, cow comfort was not a buzzword. Very few people knew or understood how a cow thinks or what makes her happy. Today, cow comfort is an absolute necessity if our animals are to be productive. There has been so much written and studied through the years on this subject.
In our industry, overcrowding is an often overlooked aspect of cow comfort. Last year, we finished a new dry-cow barn and large heifer barn. This let us to go to a "one cow, one stall, one stanchion” rule. We group our animals by their days in milk, building a pen as they come fresh.
We used to put 110 animals together
in a pen designed to hold 92 animals. When we studied a group that was not overcrowded, it was worth 8 lb. of milk throughout their lactation.
We also saw a marked difference in lameness and breeding issues. It was too good to be true, so we did
another trial. This time we saw a 6-lb. difference. That led to crunching the numbers to justify the new barn that holds 700 dry cows and heifers.
Don't get me wrong. There is no substitute for comfortable stalls, good bedding, hoof trimming or nutrition. But we all need to get more efficient. Maybe some of us could "retire” 10% of our herd and realize the same amount of milk production.
On another note, from one dairyman to another: We are going through some unprecedented financial losses and challenges in an industry that we all love. We are all feeling the pain. Our families and employees feel the pain. At times, it feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and no one to help carry the load.