20 March 1998

CONCENTRATE ON HUSBANDRY, NOT PUSHING UP YIELDS

IMPROVED cow management to reduce stress from calving, high yields and housing design will improve fertility, reduce lameness and mastitis and increase profit.

Independent dairy consultant John Hughes advises concentrating on husbandry instead of continuing to push up yields. This could also help cows last longer.

"Dont aim for higher production unless you have the environment and management system that will be kind to cows.

"We should also ask if there should be two types of cow for the UK – one for straw yards and another that is hardier and capable of walking longer distances."

Over the last 25 years, cow size and yields increased with cows having to carry more weight between their legs. They require more effort to get up and lie down, which puts stress on their feet.

But many still live in housing constructed 25-30 years ago where they are confined to beds which are too small and lack the cushioning required to support the cows extra weight. She needs a cubicle that is big enough, without a head-rail, so she can easily lunge forward to stand up, he explains.

Perhaps the best place for todays cow is a straw yard. This will be more comfortable provided that it is managed well to reduce mastitis risks.

As Mr Hughes explains, the cows defence against mastitis has reduced by two-thirds because cows have shorter teat canals and weaker teat muscles. The challenge to that cow must be reduced and her management improved, he stresses. That means better attention to bedding, housing, milkers hands, and milking.

Increased stress

Calving heifers at two-years old so they complete growth in their first and second lactation also increases stress, says Mr Hughes. Calving affects horn quality. When these animals, which have soft feet, are denied a soft surface to sleep and stand they will go lame in the first weeks of lactation.

"Research has shown that when a heifer goes lame in her first lactation, she has an 80% chance of becoming chronically lame during her lifetime." Each lameness incident is estimated to cost £250.

Exposure to slurry is a factor which increases risks of lameness, mastitis and poor milk hygiene. Mr Hughes recommends wide passageways, slats, tracks, gateways and water trough surrounds.

Yield stress can be limited by milking at 12-hour intervals or three times a day. Feeding stress can also be reduced by providing access to forage using mangers that do not rub on cows necks.

Good ventilation will also reduce stress, help control mastitis and can increase yields by 200 litres a cow. It is one of the easiest and cheapest faults to rectify.