The Fiesers milk 600 cows and graze and hay 500 acres in east-central Florida.
As I sit down in September to write this column on cow comfort for the October issue, I chuckle to myself that I may be the wrong person to be talking about cow comfort.
In Florida this time of year and for the past three months, our pasture based cows have had a tougher time it seems than usual. Over thirty inches of rain and humidity over 95% every night have created conditions more challenging than normal. Pastures are saturated, and in areas where cows congregate, sodded areas turn to mud. I would be happy to share this moisture with the far western United States.
To keep cows as comfortable as possible in our humid heat requires planning in the dryer months of spring. We remove manure laden sand and add clean sand to areas where the cows enter concrete lanes to the barn. This builds up the area on our flat land and helps with drainage.
We use geotextile covering on the sand lanes to prevent the sand turning to mud when the cows add the manure. This material lasts about three years; then we remove it and the manure solids on top of it in the dry times.
The cows have fans and sprinklers in the feed barns and milking parlor. The sprinklers work best in cooling the cows during the day, and fans work better at night when there is no air movement (remember the 95% humidity).
Most days we have a 5 mph breeze blowing, but our winds alternate between the east and the west depending on the ocean winds. As a result, we don’t feel fans are as important during the day as we once thought.
Eight months of the year, our cows are most comfortable lying in their pasture and dairying in Florida is rather simple. However, for the past four months, our cow’s favorite place to find relief from the heat is their cooling ponds.
Given a choice, this seems to be where cows want to be. Each spring we pump out the ponds and clean out the sludge in the bottom. A combination of a 48’ manure agitator pump and a rented large excavator work well in getting the job done.
Spoils from the pond surround it to provide high and dryer areas for the cows to lie down on, like people do when they spend a day at the beach. It’s interesting to watch cows alternate back and forth between the water and the beach.
All this said though, I would rather have our cows in a freestall barn in the summer.