By Rick Lundquist
I recently enlisted the help of Novus International on several of my clients’ dairies to study cow comfort. They installed data loggers on the cows to monitor feeding behavior and time spent lying down, standing and walking.
The results revealed that our management procedures were often designed for our convenience and not for the well-being of our cows.
The overall management of a cow’s environment and time budget has a huge impact on feeding, resting and rumination, which in turn impacts cow health and production. Cows should have the opportunity to lie down 10 to 12 hours per day. Anything less will increase the risk of lameness and reduce potential milk production and fertility.
We found that stall design and time away from the stalls were our biggest bottlenecks. Cows won’t want to lie down if they have uncomfortable stalls. They can’t lie down if they are kept away from their stalls or locked up too long. Maybe the distance to the parlor is too far, the pen size is too large or we’re just getting them up too soon.
Two things jumped out at us when the data were analyzed. First, many of the cows were away from their pens too long. Our cow pushers were getting them up before the cows needed to. This was for the pushers’ convenience, not for the cows.
Cows were standing on concrete, away from their stalls, much longer than the goal of about three hours per day. This was an easy fix.
Second, our neck rails were too low and too close to the curb. The target for neck rails, according to University of Wisconsin researchers, is 48" or higher above the bedding and 68" or more from the curb.
Why do we have neck rails? To keep the stalls clean. No consideration for cow comfort. We observed cows contorting around the neck rails to lie down or get up in their stalls. Some were perching with their hind feet in the alley.
My clients decided to raise their neck rails and move them forward. One considered removing them altogether. In the end, the cows didn’t need them, so why did we have them? They were for our convenience, so we didn’t have to scrape manure from the back of the stalls. We decided that regular removal of manure from the stalls also got someone in the pens more often to observe the cows.
These dairies were in Florida, so good, clean sand is readily available. They all do a good job of keeping beds full.
Lying time decreases about 30 minutes for each 1" decline in bedding level in deep-bedded stalls,
according to researchers at the University of British Columbia.
Stocking rate was one item that didn’t correlate with performance in these herds. We ranged from 82% cows per stall to 132%. The herds with the higher stocking rates had better cow comfort scores and better overall performance.
This indicated to me that when we tend to our cows’ overall comfort, we not only get better health and production per cow, but we can milk more cows in the same facility.
RICK LUNDQUIST is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.