Facility evaluation makes such daily production possible
Brian Brown calls his new freestall cow barn a five-star hotel for his bovine beauties.
The "hotel" is designed to accommodate mature cows that often tip the scales at 1,600 lb. to 1,650 lb. The six-row, 330-stall barn features freestalls that are 50" wide, 17' long head-to-head, and 10' long on the outside rows. The stalls have a limestone base, overlain with a permeable cover and rubber mattress that allow liquids to seep through. Each bed is covered with 3" of clean sand.
"Originally, in our older barn, we over-crowded a bit. But that doesn’t pay. Our philosophy now is one cow per stall," says Brown, who milks 500 cows near Belleville, Wis., just a few miles south of Madison.
In addition to having enough beds and stalls, bunk space and headlocks are at a premium in the new six-row barn. And since Brown milks three times per day, his cows have a limited time budget to milk, eat and rest.
After moving into the new barn, Brown’s cows have rewarded him with a tank average that routinely exceeds 100 lb. per cow per day.
Brown is among a growing number of Wisconsin dairy producers who have reached the 100-lb. mark. In fact, the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Veterinary Medicine offered a tour last spring of herds that are maintaining this level of production, and they’re planning another such tour this fall.
The herds, including Browns’, have participated in the UW Vet School’s Dairyland Initiative, a web-based, interactive program in which farms submit their current or proposed facility designs for evaluation. The whole idea is to catch potential problems before they’re poured into concrete.
"When the builder finishes the job and cows enter the new [or remodeled] barn, the lender and dairy producer must live with the results," says Nigel Cook, a UW veterinarian who developed the Dairyland Initiative along with fellow veterinarian Ken Nordlund. "Poor facilities lead to poor results."
"The Dairyland Initiative aims to prevent this situation—before any money is spent on a building—through the use of a risk assessment," Nordlund says.
Producers start by submitting building plans. The Dairyland Initiative program coordinators then perform the risk assessment on the plan, which includes examining barn layout, freestall design, ventilation systems, feed and water space, and so on.
Brian Brown was among the first users—and believers. "In our first barn, Nigel Cook came out to do research on lame cow behavior. He set up a video camera and taped cows in the alleyways and stalls to determine their time budgets," Brown explains.
Cook found that lameness and stall design significantly impacted cow time budgets and the opportunity for rest.
At the time, Brown’s stalls were only 45" wide, too short to allow front lunge with the neck rails being placed too close to the rear curb. So the decision was made to widen stalls to a full 48" and lengthen the outside-row freestalls 2' under the eaves to provide more lunge space. Neck rails were also moved forward.
"Before we made the improvements, the cows always seemed restless and unsettled. Now, they’re relaxed, less agitated and cleaner," Brown says.
"After we made the changes, we saw improvements in all areas. Foot health improved, herd health improved, somatic cell counts went down, and milk production went up," he says. "Reproduction has never been better."
When it was time to build his new, 330-stall barn, Brown again consulted Cook. It was another leap of faith because Cook wanted even bigger stalls for Brown’s big-bodied, mature Holsteins.
"Nigel had the mindset of longer, wider stalls with wider alleyways," Brown says. "But that ran up against our banker who wanted ‘x’ number of cows in the square footage of the barn we were proposing.
"I had to first make myself believe these changes would pay, and then convince my banker," he says. But by then, Cook and Nordlund had enough of a track record in other herds to prove their recommendations would pencil into real profits.
And they have. "After the second barn was built, milk per cow increased from 3,000 lb. to 4,000 lb. over time," Brown says.
Reproduction rates are at an all-time high for his herd, with the pregnancy rate at 32%, calving interval at 12.5 months and most cows pregnant by 130 days in milk. Lameness, one of Brown’s original reasons for working with Cook and the Dairyland Initiative, is now at 8%.
Dairyland Initiative available nationally
The Dairyland Initiative is designed to catch problems before they’re poured into concrete.
One of the reasons you might not have heard about the Dairyland Initiative is that it wasn’t easily accessible to producers outside Wisconsin borders.
It is now. Through a $50,000 grant from the Dean Foods Foundation, the Dairyland Initiative’s web-based resources are now available to dairy farmers across the country. All you need to do is log on and sign up. (See Bonus Content for this
article at www.dairytoday.com.)
"While different climates will dictate some differences in how dairy cattle are housed, the concepts behind the ‘Wisconsin Blueprint’ recommendations of our website address the physical and
social needs of calves, heifers and cows, no matter the location," says Nigel Cook.
To date, there have been some 2,000
users of the website, and some 200 dairy farms have had risk assessments completed by the team directly. These have ranged from calf barn ventilation systems, transition cow facilities and tiestall and freestall barns, including remodeling and new designs. Many more facilities are being influenced by graduates of the workshops organized by Becky Brotzman, outreach specialist.
The site offers several web-based tools for producers:
- Transition cow pen size calculator, which estimates the space needed for dry cow through post-fresh pens based on herd size and management practices.
- Transition cow facility budget calculator, which estimates how much barn space you can buy based on predicted cow performance improvement.
- Mattress versus sand bedding partial budget calculator, using production and health data.
- Heifer facility needs calculator.
- Stall remodel partial budget.
- Footbath dose calculator.
The calculators allow the farmer and lender to see whether or not the expected facility cost is realistic and likely to be matched by an improvement in performance. "The vast majority of our
users are delighted with the results," Cook says.
That’s because recommendations are based on common sense. "If a stall renovation will require 10 lb. to 15 lb. more milk per day, that’s likely too much," Cook says. "But if the renovations require 3 lb. to 6 lb., that keeps things viable."