Grow the herd: Getting cow environment right when expanding

Space – and capital – are usually at a premium for those looking to grow their herd, however, failure to provide the right cow environment will be hugely detrimental to the business and as such, careful planning is crucial.

Peter Shipton, technical manager at Kingshay, suggests the following areas for attention:

1 Space

Space should be the first consideration – each cow needs at least 8-10m2, including passages and feeding areas

2 Ventilation

Air flow is the next vital factor, which is often overlooked.

• Don’t attach a new building to an old one, because you won’t get enough ventilation.

• You need at least a 20-30ft feed passage between buildings, and raise the eaves height to ensure good airflow.

• An adult cow needs a minimum of 133m3 of fresh air/hour in winter and up to 280m3/hr in summer, so consider what you are going to use the building for.

• Ventilation requirements depend on roof span, pitch and height, but an open ridge is essential for air flow, and air intake should be evenly spread around the shed, at an area two to four times that of the roof outlet.

3 Cubicle numbers and design

• Ideally, cows should be lying down for at least 17-18 hours a day – they produce up to one litre more milk for every extra hour lying down.

• For every 90 cows producers should provide 100 cubicles, designed according to cow size.

• A typical 650kg Holstein will need a 5’6″ long and 3’9″ wide base to lie on, with at least two foot lunging space beyond the brisket board – less if they are head to head.

• Bedding can vary, but sand or straw over mattresses is usually best. Cows lying on hard surfaces get pressure build up, which reduces blood flow to the udder.

• Cubicles should slope by 2-3 degrees down to the passageway, with no more than an 8 inch step to the floor.

• If you don’t have enough cubicles of the right size, the cows won’t be lying down, and will be more likely to go lame, get mastitis, and suffer from poor fertility.

• There is a big financial benefit to getting your building and cubicle design right.

4 Passageways

Increasing cow numbers will result in more slurry, so producers must think about slurry storage, and aim for 3m wide passages between cubicles and 4m feed passages.

• Each cow will need 0.7m of feeding space, and there must be enough water troughs for 10% of the herd to drink at once, with 10-20cm space a cow.

• Think about cow flow – how are they going to get to the parlour, the feed and water troughs, and back to bed as quickly as possible?

5 Parlour

Many people try to grow their herd without considering the parlour – you then end up with longer milking times, potentially disgruntled workers and increased waiting times for cows.

• Cow environment key points

• Ensure sufficient ventilation

• Provide more than enough cubicles at the right size

• Think about cow flow

• Consider labour and parlour efficiency

Case study, John Forrest, Hurkledale Farm, Annan

John Forrest focussed on cow comfort, ventilation and light when he erected a new shed at Hurkledale Farm, Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, last year. “We tried to keep the building as light and airy as possible – one side is completely open above cow height, and we’ve used Ventair on the side of the prevailing wind. We’ve also left gaps between space boards on the roof for maximum ventilation.”

Mr Forrest even helped to design a new style of cubicle for the 400-cow shed, to keep cows lying straight and reduce dunging in the cubicle. Placed head-to-head, they have higher bottom bars than normal, and no rail in front of the cows when they are lying down. “We are also using sand instead of sawdust over mattresses, and are getting much less hock damage and mastitis.”

The cows clearly prefer their new accommodation, which also features 12-16ft wide passageways. “They have taken to it really well – in the hour before milking up to 92% of them are lying down, compared to 60% in the other sheds, and mastitis levels have dropped from 26% to 19%. It’s the first time we have expanded and improved technical performance in the first 12 months – in the past it’s taken a year to settle in before actually improving performance.”

• Grow the herd is a series of articles sponsored by Cogent offering practical advice on key areas for attention when increasing cow numbers.

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