Cow Comfort Is the Rule

 
Cow Comfort Is the Rule
Mark Rodgers

Mark Rodgers
Dearing, Ga.

At Hillcrest Farms, four generations of the Rodgers family milk 420 cows and raise 470 heifers.

 

 

Cow comfort is the rule at Hillcrest. Before building our freestall barn in 2009, we visited a dozen or more freestall barns all over the southeastern U.S. We attempted to use the best ideas from each farm in the construction of our own facility.

We designed our conventional freestall barn to help mitigate the severity of the long, hot and humid summers in Georgia. We oriented the barn on an east/west axis and covered the return lanes on both sides of the barn to keep the sun from shining on the cows. We left a 3’ wide opening along the ridge vent and elevated the roof height to 14’ along the sides of the barn to provide better natural ventilation.

 

When the temperature hits 68° we begin evaporative cooling. This employs the use of 52” fans that turn on to move the air a minimum of 3-6 mph. At 72°, high volume/low pressure sprinklers wet cows at the feed alley for 1 minute, then turn off for 10 minutes. The soakers come on 1 minute sooner for each 2° of temperature, rising until 84° where they max out at 1 minute on and off for 5 minutes.

Our stalls are 17’ rear curb to rear curb. We believe this gives a bit more lunge room and dissipates heat better between the cows that face head-to-head in our four-row barn. The stalls have additional river sand added weekly to keep beds full and elevated on the front of the cow.

The freestall beds are hand-raked three times daily to remove any manure and are mechanically groomed once daily to smooth out holes and push sand back toward the front of the stall.

All cow alleys are covered with ¾” grooved belting to provide excellent footing as well as foot and leg comfort.  The lane to and from the milking parlor is under the freestall roof to keep the sun off the cows. The reclaimed sand is captured there for recycling and provides good traction for the cows on their way to the parlor and back to their groups.

Finally, we use a neck rail only at the feed alley and do not use headlocks.  We believe this encourages more dry matter intake. To catch cows, we use an automatic sort gate post milking parlor.  Activity monitors detect and record heats.

Each 95-cow group in our freestall barn has a DeLaval Automated Swinging Cow Brush. The cows love to stop at them daily to get a good massage. It is great to see the attention they get from guests as they tour our facilities. The brushes also get a lot of positive feedback when I post videos of our cows using them on our farm’s Facebook page.

Rodgers’recent prices

Milk

$26.32 (3.34 bf, 2.9 prt)

Cull cows    

$101/cwt.

Springing heifers

$2,550/head

Whole cottonseed

$340/ton (contracted)

Ground corn

$185/ton

Soybean meal

$670/ton

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