Switch to Sand, Cross-Ventilation

October 3, 2011 08:35 PM

CarlsonsCarlson Dairy, LLP

(Curtney & Louise Carlson, Chad & Kindra Carlson, Carl & Kellie Carlson)

Willmar, Minn.
The Carlsons milk 950 cows on a 120-year-old family farm.


*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.


Most of the decisions made on any dairy farm are cow-focused. That was our primary objective in expanding our operation in 2008—to improve cow comfort and maximize milk production.
The expansion not only allowed us to switch to sand bedding throughout the old and new barns, but it also jump-started our conversion to cross-ventilation.

Come hear Chad and Kindra Carlson speak at the 2011 Elite Producer Business Conference.

Of all the things we’ve done, converting to sand is the No. 1 improvement we’ve made for cow comfort on our farm. Since the switch from mattresses to sand, we’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the time cows spend lying down. Before sand, it was common to see only about half of the stalls being used and cows standing half-in, half-out.

Now, it is not uncommon to go into the barn and see every stall filled and the entire row lying down. This has led to less damage to legs and hocks, and cow injuries as a whole have decreased because of increased traction throughout the entire barn. Pens are not as slippery and cows move about more easily.
Cows are also no longer afraid to show signs of heat, so we’re able to see a lot more visible standing heats. This has led to better pregnancy rates, an added benefit of sand that we didn’t necessarily expect.
We’ve also made our freestalls wider. Our stalls for two-year-olds are 48" wide, three-year-olds 50" wide and more mature cows 51" wide. Far-off dry cow pens have 52" stalls, and close-up pens 54" stalls.
Wider stalls have not only added to cow comfort, but have also allowed us to add more bunk space per head than what we previously had in our old facility, where stalls were at 45".
The conversion of our entire freestall system to cross-ventilation in 2008 has led to better air quality control. We currently have 72 fans that are 54" wide on the south side of the barn. Fans are on thermostat control, with banks of six turning on and off automatically.
At temperatures above 65°F, all fans are running. As temperatures decrease, fans turn off, one bank at a time, at 2° to 3° increments. The wind speed generated from the cross-ventilation has also helped eliminate flies and led to less cow huddling.
We believe that time spent waiting in the holding area and parlor is a cow’s least productive time for making milk. Our goal is to keep cows as comfortable as possible in the holding area and to get them in and out of the parlor as quickly as possible. We pay particular attention to group sizing to try to get the cows back to the freestall barn within 50 minutes. The holding pen is equipped with sprinklers that run continuously when temperatures exceed 70°.
In addition, we’ve added 1" rubber mats in both the parlor and holding pen. This has improved cow loading into the parlor and resulted in fewer cows falling when trying to turn into our parallel parlor.
As has everyone else, we’ve had to make lots of adjustments along the way. Trial and error ultimately determine what works best on our farm.


Carlsons' September Prices  
Milk (3.79% bf, 3.06% prt) $23.58/cwt.
Cull cows $67/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,750/head
Alfalfa hay (milk cow) $170/ton
(160 RFV)
Dry beet pulp $110/ton
Ground dry corn $310/ton
Canola $213/ton


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