Use smoke to check cow housing’s up to scratch ahead of winter

Now is the time to make sure your buildings are ready to house cows this winter, says Richard Davies, DairyCo extension officer and housing specialist.

“Making low-cost changes now can make a real difference to your cows’ environment through the winter months,” he points out.

Temperature and ventilation are one area where you can make a significant difference, he says.

“About two-thirds of the buildings I see don’t have adequate ventilation and it tends to be the outlet getting rid of stale air that is the problem.”

Producers housing stock in buildings with no holes in the roof are undoubtedly losing money, says Jamie Robertson, research fellow at Aberdeen University.

“Inadequate outlets will encourage build-up of contamination within the building,” he explains.

An adult dairy cow produces 10 litres of water from respiration every 24 hours, which equates to 2.5t of water for 250 cows. “When ventilation is inadequate, this water will be unable to escape, creating wet beds and increasing the likelihood of mastitis and other problems.”

As a rule of thumb, there should be 5cm of ridge opening for every 3m of building width, says Mr Davies.

Adequate inlet ventilation must also be provided. “The inlet should be twice the area of the outlet,” he says.

Smoke test

Independent beef and sheep consultant David Hendy suggests lighting some damp straw in a wheelbarrow or using a smoke bomb to test building ventilation. “Ideally, smoke should clear after six minutes,” he says. “Any longer than this and you have a problem.”

Cow behaviour speaks volumes about where improvements can be made to housing, said Rob Mintern, Kingshay senior technical specialist at a recent Kingshay open day.

“Two hours after milking, 90% of cows should be lying,” he said. “If not, why not? Stand back and look at what cows are telling you. How many cows are standing? Are cows perching in the cubicles?”

Poorly set-up cubicles could cause abnormal behaviour, he added. “Cows perching in cubicles can be a sign that the neck rail is not positioned correctly.

“Perching will increase the weight on the back feet, change the angle of the pedal bone and increase the incidence of sole ulcers.”

Kingshay technical manager Martin Yeates said significant improvements could be made to cubicles at very little cost.

“Measure your cows and make sure your cubicles are set up correctly for your herd. One size does not fit all, but often a cubicle is made to fit all when fitted by the manufacturer.”

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