Taking simple steps to raise dairy cow comfort

With silaging almost complete on most dairy units, now is the ideal time of year to upgrade cattle housing and carry out those much needed repairs.

And seeing repairs from a cow’s point of view can highlight changes that don’t cost much, but can make a difference to day to day management.

The first step is to look at why cows were culled last year, advises Nantwich-based vet Neil Howie.

“Whether it’s for lameness, mastitis or injuries, these records will indicate whether housing or parlour maintenance needs looking at.

“Records showing lame cows with white line disease or sole ulcers indicate excessive twisting and turning round corners and gateways.

Then check for rough points, pressure points, narrow doorways and potential areas for slipping,” he says.

Other areas for attention will be cubicle maintenance, length of feeding passageways and adequate ventilation.

“And modifications to these don’t necessarily have to cost, it may simply be about adding fresh concrete or taking out a few layers of bricks to give better ventilation,” adds Mr Howie.

Having an effective parlour system can make all the difference, says Promar International’s farm buildings and waste management specialist Paul Henman.

“Efficient parlour throughput can also have dramatic results, both in terms of animal health and ease of management.

A few minutes saved every milking can add up many saved hours throughout the year.”

Where housing conditions are concerned, Kingshay adviser Martin Yeates says observing cow behaviour, will identify key adjustments.

“When cows aren’t using cubicles, think about why they’re not.

It may be that neck rails are in the wrong position.

If so, simple modifications, such as extending rails to more suitable heights can increase use of cubicles cheaply and effectively.”

Kingshay research suggests a calm and consistent routine can be worth 2000 a year and essential to achieving this is analysing the existing backing gate and collecting yard system.

“Fine tuning cow flow encourages good milk let down, shorter milking times and less dunging in parlour,” he adds.

Tired concrete can also be given new life by re-grooving yards, he adds.

“Estimated at a cost of 1.75/sq m, this is a quick adjustment which has numerous benefits.”

And where animals are expected to move quickly or turn sharply selective use of rubber matting is an inexpensive and time-efficient way of increasing parlour throughput, he adds.

Gloucestershire-based producer Alan Timbrell plans on doing just that this year.

“With milk prices as they are, this is maintenance that is affordable and can show cost effective benefits.”

Kingshay also advise thinking about different bedding options, as bedding quality influences comfort and management, bacterial load and somatic cell counts.

Examine what is suitable for individual management systems and whether it fits into existing waste management routines.

And where machinery maintenance is concerned building designer Graeme Lochhead, says don’t wait for breakdowns.

“Simple, preventative maintenance such as overhauling scraper tractors, pumps, calibrating and greasing feeders and cleaning condensers can prolong working life, and also alleviate untimely repairs.

“Checking electrical equipment for routine and vermin damage is essential, as cows can detect trickle voltage which can stress animals unnecessarily,” he adds.