In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.
Cow comfort has received a lot of attention in recent years, but it is something that has always been important. Whether she’s eating, resting or being milked, a cow has to feel secure and comfortable with her surroundings.
We feel there are two basic aspects to cow comfort: the physical and (don’t laugh) the mental. The physical aspect is pretty straightforward. We provide for all their physical needs--food, water, a place to rest, and medical care when necessary.
We feed a well-balanced ration twice a day, at the same time every day, and we make sure there is adequate bunk space to minimize any competition for feed among individual animals. Water is available as the cows exit the parlor.
This helps to reduce the number of cows congregating around the tanks in the corrals, especially in hot weather. It’s important to us that our animals have easy access to feed and water whenever they want it.
A good portion of our time and attention is spent on corral maintenance. For most of the year, providing a comfortable place to rest is just a matter of harrowing corrals to keep them dry and even.
But during the winter months, it’s a different story. Having open-lot facilities means that we are subject to the elements, and wet corrals are a fact of life. To keep the cows relatively dry and comfortable, we spread straw over a large portion of each corral, then add to it daily with more straw. The time we spend and the investment we make during those winter months is substantial, yet sometimes it just seems like an exercise in futility. It’s pretty hard to mitigate the effects of a cold, wet winter storm. Our philosophy during those times is simply “do the best you can, and don’t give up.”
It may seem a bit silly to consider the mental aspect of cow comfort. I don’t know if “mental” is even the right term--but it’s no less important. We define it as the cows’ comfort level with the situation she is in at any given time.
That is why we stick to a steady, consistent routine during milking, and we don’t allow yelling, banging or other loud, abrupt noises in the parlor--or outside for that matter. It’s also why we move cows from pen to pen as little as possible, and vet checks and breeding are done as quickly and efficiently as possible. All these and many others cause the cows’ perception of threat to increase and her comfort level to decrease, and that’s something we want to avoid.
If you come from a multi-generational dairy farm family, chances are good that somewhere in your past, your dad told you, “Take care of your cows and your cows will take care of you.” Your dad knew what he was talking about--listen to your dad!
Wiersma’s recent prices
$22.18 (3.64 bf, 3.19 prt)