Comfortable California Cows

October 11, 2012 10:12 AM

CharlieDeGrootCharles DeGroot

Fresno, Calif.

DeGroot is a third-generation California dairy producer whose San Joaquin Valley operation milks 2,400 cows. 


**Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Cow comfort is a top priority on our dairy. It doesn’t matter how well we think we’re doing with cow comfort; there’s always room to improve. It’s not just a system or protocol we put in place and then leave alone. We’re always fine-tuning our system to make it better. There are many different factors that contribute to cow comfort on our farm.

One main focus is to provide a dry, clean place that cows want to lay in. You can have dry bedding, but if there isn’t enough in the stall, cows won’t be comfortable. We compost separated and corral manure and use this year-round as bedding in the freestalls as well as in the open corrals.

Wet bedding is hand-raked daily (six days per week) out of the freestalls. Stalls are also groomed daily with a tractor-mounted rake. Dry manure is added once a week.

More bedding is required during winter months when rain limits the use of exercise lots. We use dry bedding under the shades in our open corrals year-round also. During the winter months, bedding is scraped out three times per week and replaced with dry manure.

During the summer, we scrape bedding out from under shades to dry in the corral, and we scrape dry manure from the corral back under the shades twice per week. We measure cow comfort in our freestalls by the amount of cows that are not eating, drinking or lying down--our goal is less than 10%.

During the summer months, the use of fans and soakers is a key factor in keeping our animals comfortable.

After the heat wave of 2006, we knew we had to invest in cow cooling. So, we installed soaker lines for all milk cows as well as fans in all high-production AI pens. A year ago, we added soaker lines to all dry cows as well. We have minimal feed intake drops during summer months, and close-up cows are standing at the feedbunk in the late summer afternoons. I used to never see dry cows eating in the late afternoon of a hot summer day.

Another area that’s important is the lanes that cows travel on from their pen to the milk barn. We installed rubber mats in the lane where cows eat as well as the path to the barn and back. In addition, the wash pen and holding pen in the milk barn have rubber mats. It’s rare to see a cow leaving the barn and not walking down the rubber mat. The mats also significantly decreased the number of cows we had falling on slick concrete. They provide comfort as well as grip to animals traveling or standing on them.

There are many other contributing factors to cow comfort: corral maintenance (repairing holes); clean transfer lanes (mostly done by flush); having clean, accessible water troughs; clean feedbunks; and fresh feed when cows come out of the milking parlor. All play a role in keeping our cows comfortable.

DeGroot's Most Recent Prices  
Milk (3.4% bf, 3.19% prt, 78 lb.) $16.37/cwt. (over base)
$18.07/cwt. (quota)
Cull cows $69/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,200/head
Alfalfa hay (delivered/premium) $260 to $280/ton
Corn (rolled) $345/ton
Cottonseed $418/ton
Bull calves $60/head
Canola $405/ton



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