Cushioned for Comfort Special barn suited for special needs

October 10, 2008 07:00 PM
 

The Schullos' cows take to new sand-bedded stalls like they're lying on the beach, totally relaxed.
Providing a topflight freestall housing environment is a long-standing priority at 700-cow Valley Vu Dairy near Cumberland, Wis.

"Our main goal is to help our cows live up to their production potential,” says Pam Schullo. Along with her husband, Dan, Pam heads up a management team that includes the couple's son, Travis; daughter-in-law, Michelle; and Jill Becker. "Keeping [cows] as comfortable and clean as possible can take us a long way in helping us meet that goal.”

Cow comfort was definitely at the forefront when the Schullos built a 116'x372' freestall to house 400 cows in 2001. Key features of the curtain-sided, six-row barn included freestall mattresses with sawdust bedding, 14'-high sidewalls to ensure good air movement, an automatic alley scraper for manure handling and a fan-mister system to help the cows stay cool during summer hot spells. "Overall, it worked well for us,” Pam says.

When it came time, however, to build a new barn last year (as part of an expansion that would grow their herd to 700 cows), the Schullos decided some fine-tuning was in order. "It seemed like we had been stuck on [a production average of] 68 to 70 lb. of milk per day for quite a while and we thought cow comfort might be the limiting factor,” Pam says. "We also felt we might be able to increase the longevity of our cows by making some changes.”

Bedding stalls with sand rather than mattresses was one of the first decisions made by the Valley Vu management crew. "The mattresses were starting to wear out,” says Jill Becker, assistant herdsman at the dairy. "In some spots, they were coming out of the stalls into the alleys. With an automatic alley scraper, that is not a good thing.”

Once they completed the move onto sand, Pam and Jill remember, they both saw an immediate difference in cow behavior. "The cows definitely spend more time lying in the stalls now,” Pam says.

Jill adds: "When you walk into the barn, it's like seeing a bunch of people lounging around at the beach. They look so nice and relaxed. It's exactly what you want.”

Another noticeable difference: Cows in the new barn don't slip as much in the alleys as cows in the older barn. "Some sand gets kicked out into the alleys when cows move in and out of the stalls, and that helps with footing,” Pam says. "We don't see as many lameness problems or injuries, and the cows show heat a little better.”

At the same time, there is a labor tradeoff. "In the older barn, we had the automatic manure scraper for manure handling,” Pam explains. "In the new barn, we have to clean the alleys with a skid steer and rake the sand in the stalls three times a day while the cows are being milked. On the plus side, we only have to rebed the sand stalls once every 10 days or so. With the wood shavings, we're bedding every other day.”

A new thermostat-controlled fan sprinkler setup is another cow comfort–oriented change the Schullos made when designing the new barn. The sprinklers are mounted along the top of the lockup stanchions lining the center feed alley.

Jill scoured cow-cooling research to help the Schullos design their system. She programmed the system so the sprinklers turn on for one minute every 23 minutes when the temperature in the barn reaches 72¢ªF.
A sprinkler line waters for one minute out of 23 minutes when temperatures reach 72F. The interval shortens as temperatures rise.

  As temperatures climb, the interval between the one-minute soakings shortens. By the time the temperature reaches 95¢ª, the sprinklers are coming on once every three minutes.

"The way the mister system is set up in the other barn, we cool the air over the alley closest to the feed alley lockups,” Jill explains. "With the sprinkler system [in the new barn], we're cooling the cows directly. From what we've seen so far, the new setup is definitely better.”

Another benefit of the new system is that fans are larger (48" versus 36") and rotate more slowly. Net result: less noise in the barn. "It doesn't make any difference to the cows,” Dan Schullo says. "But it sure is a lot nicer for the people working in the barn.”

Installing longer water troughs—12' versus 8'—in the new barn was another change the team made with the goal of improving cow comfort in mind. "We felt there was too much crowding around the waterers with the shorter troughs,” Jill says.

She notes that the dairy has also now replaced roughly half of the 8' waterers in the older barn with 12' models. "With the additional length, a smaller, less aggressive heifer isn't as likely to get pushed away from water by a larger, more mature cow.”

A MULTI PURPOSE BUILDING

The new 150'x250' freestall building at Valley Vu was designed to serve a variety of purposes. One side of the barn serves as a pen for cows in milk less than 60 days. The pen consists of three rows (168 stalls) of sand-bedded stalls.

The other side of the barn consists of a fresh-cow pen with 65 sand-bedded stalls, a bedded pack area for close-up dry cows, a bedded pack maternity pen and a self-contained fresh cow/treated cow milking parlor.

The new barn serves as a transition facility, housing close-up dry cows through 60 days in milk.

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