Shorter Lockup Time

October 14, 2009 07:00 PM

*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Randy & Jennifer Gross
Elkton, S.D.
Cow comfort is a major driver in dairy performance since a comfortable cow will outperform a stressed-out cow in every measurable category -- along with advantages in areas that are difficult to quantify.

Higher production is an obvious advantage, but along with this comes excellent preg rates, fewer cases of mastitis, fewer lame cows and extra cows to sell for dairy purposes.
Our sand-bedded freestalls give a comfortable, clean and dry environment for cows to rest in. We have a free-floating neck rail to provide a little extra maneuvering space for larger cows. Travel lanes, holding pen and cow deck are covered with rubber belting to assist with hoof health.

We take pride in a low cull rate and a higher-than-normal average herd age. One area we've focused on in the last six months is lockup time, especially in the fresh pen. We record every day what time the headlocks are set and when they are let go. We never thought we had a problem or need for improvement until we started recording this statistic.

Special-needs cows' lockup time went from 1–1½ hours per day to 40–50 minutes per day—and the cows are showing more milk and fewer health issues. We keep the pen populated at no more than 80% capacity, which benefits first-calf heifers.

We milk Holsteins and it's our belief that cows are not too big but that many facilities have been built with designs more attuned to what's good for the people (building contractor, feeder, pen cleaner, etc.) instead of what's best for the cow. It seems like the more research that is done regarding cow comfort (time spent laying down, eating, standing and socializing), the more we realize that many freestalls have been built too narrow and too short. And just being with cows will tell the same story as any research project on the subject.

Investing in improvements in cow comfort always seems to have a direct and immediate payback.

Grosses' August Prices  
Milk (3.5% bf, 2.9% prt): $11.70/cwt.
Cull cows: $42/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,200/head
Alfalfa $125/ton
Cottonseed (spot): $250/ton
Ground corn: $115/ton

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