Large-scale dairy: Separation for less anxiety

The economies of scale dictate that large units have the resources to be hugely specialised in specific areas of cow management, and this is no more apparent than at Double A Dairy, Jerome.

With 13,000 cows on one unit, having a separate calving facility and managing fresh cows and heifers as a separate group is key to maximising health and welfare.

Double A calving unit

Double A’s calving unit manages dry cows from Double A Dairy and other dairy farms, totalling more than 16,000 cows.

And with 50-90 cows giving birth a day it pays to have staff dedicated purely to calving 24 hours a day, explains Sam Mosley, calving and fresh cow manager.

“We have a vet on site and three staff whose job is purely looking after calving cows.”

Calving protocols

The calving barn has facilities for calving and milking fresh cows for colostrum. Colostrum is pasteurised at a separate calf unit and returned to the farm in bottles.

“We are heavily protocol driven due to the size of the facility,” explains Mr Mosley.

“Calves are first tubed with colostrum within the first two hours and then receive a second bottle, and possibly a third, before moving onto pasteurised milk.

“The colostrum each calf receives is also monitored for quality to ensure calves are receiving the best possible.”

Cows and calves receive vitamin A and E and selenium injections and cows are given IV fluids as needed, with calves leaving the unit within 24 hours of birth.

“All calves are also weighed and records sent to the heifer calf manager so he can track daily liveweight gain,” says Mr Mosley. 


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Find out what UK dairy farmers think we could learn from large-scale units in the USA, and their answer to the question “Do you think high cow numbers means low cow welfare?” here. You can also read what consultants and US farmers thought.

Recording is essential for the smooth operation of the unit, he stresses. “We record heifer number, time calved, time given first and second colostrum, weight and member of staff responsible on individual farm sheets.”

Dry cow management

• Cows are dry for 52 days and housed on open lots

• Stock move from outer pens in towards central pens as they come close to calving

• Close-up cows are positioned around a central aisle leading to a calving barn so they can be easily pulled out for calving

• Cows are in the close-up pens for 21 days prior to calving

• Animals are low-stocked in groups of 125 close to calving and about 250 before this

• Close-up cows have shade and soaker lines to keep cool and maintain intakes during summer

• Soaker lines are on automatic sensors and run for varying times depending on air temperature

• Close-up cows are fed DCAB minerals and urine pH is taken once a week

• Heifers are kept in separate groups and remain in fresh, breeding and first lactation pens until they are mixed when pregnant for a second time.

Fresh cows remain at the facility for 5-12 hours post calving and then return to their home dairies where they enter the fresh cow programmeme.

Fresh cow management

Cows and heifers are split into different pens in the fresh cow building where they remain for 2-3 weeks, says Brandon Andersen of Double A Dairy.

“Getting close-up cow management right makes managing fresh cows so much easier. And having such high cow numbers means having basic protocols in place is essential.”

Consequently, the fresh cow unit runs a regimental system assessing and treating cows. “Stock are locked in yokes and checked daily – we have a team of staff walking in front of cows assessing intakes and general appearance and a guy walking behind taking temperatures.”

Cows are marked on the rump with coloured paint depending on health at assessment.

“Animals marked green are OK, those marked blue have not eaten and those red have a high temperature.” This means a cow’s health can be assessed simply by looking at rump markings.

The first team of assessors is followed by a treatment crew who give set medication according to the problem. “When a cow’s temperature is above 40C a red clip is put on her yoke so treatment staff know to administer a long-lasting antibiotic shot, aspirin once a day for three days and glycol to stimulate intakes.”

Double A Dairy – key facts

• 13,000 cows, averaging 31kg a cow a day

• 140 full-time employees

• Separate transition, parlour, manure and feed managers

• Cows housed mostly in cubicles with 3000 in open lots

• Each barn 440yds (400m) in length, housing 1200 cows

• Heifers grouped separately until second lactation

• Three-times-a-day milking

• Four 50:50 rapid-exit parallel parlours

• Presynch/Ovsynch programmeme (see fertility box) with visual heat detection and CIDRs used on first time breeders.

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