COMFORT IS TOP PRIORITY
Cow comfort comes first on one Warwickshire unit. Michael Gaisford reports
COW comfort and cost considerations were the top priorities when dairy farmer John Charles-Jones put up a new building for his 150-head herd last autumn.
"Most of our members of Parliament get more letters about animal welfare than anything else, and I think it is very important that we are seen to be looking after our cows well. One of the few things that upsets me is seeing dirty cows on dairy farms," says Mr Charles-Jones.
He has been contract farming with a local landowner for eight years at the 300ha (740 acres) Chapel Farm, Bentley, near Atherstone. Since 1990 he has modernised the dairy unit, culminating in the construction of a cosy new timber-built six-row cubicle building with central feed passage.
Before opting for the timber-framed building with timber cubicle divisions and cubicle mattresses, he also considered steel-framed buildings, tubular steel cubicle divisions and loose housing systems.
"Timber housing worked out cheaper, but just as important to me is that I always think that cows look so much more comfortable in timber buildings.
"There is less condensation inside timber buildings, while steel cubicles and framework always look so cold. Also with timber cubicle divisions it is so much easier to get any downer cows out of them."
So, to replace home-built cow kennels that had lasted 25 years, on the same site he has put up an almost square Farmplus building 36m (118ft) wide x 35.55m (116ft 6in) long. He expects it to last 40 years.
Including base work and concrete floors, the building, cubicle divisions, cubicle mattresses, fluorescent lighting and water troughs, the new building cost £82,000, or £547 a cow place.
It sits on a shuttered concrete base, is open at both ends above the steel doors, and has extra-wide passageways. Roof lighting is generous – 30% glass reinforced plastic (GRP) sheeting over the central feeding and service area, and 10% GRP roof lights over the outer rows of cubicles. Ventilation is also helped by open ridges on the outside spans, a cap over the central ridge, and an eaves gap between the central and side spans of the three span complex.
Cubicle dimensions are the standard size as used by Farmplus for several years. They are all 2.5m (8ft 2in) long, and spaced at 1.22m (4ft) centres. Managing director Jim Rogerson admits that there still appears to be some controversy over the optimum width of cow cubicles.
"Most of our customers specify divisions set at 4ft centres, a few now ask for 4ft 2in divisions to accommodate large Holstein-type cows, while some tubular steel cantilever divisions are being put in at only 3ft 9in centres," says Mr Rogerson.
The cubicles have a 175mm (7in) high heelstone and concrete beds on which has been laid a waterproof mattress. It consists of a 5mm (0.2in) thick waterproof top cover over a 35mm (1.4in) thick mattress. The mattress consists of a layer of foam between two layers of vinyl.
Suppliers Animal Comfort claim that this type of cow mattress is far more permanent than mattresses filled with chopped up rubber which moves about causing an uneven surface and is less comfortable for cows lying on it.
The cubicles are also bedded daily during the week with straw. "This is put in more as an absorbent than for cow comfort," explains Mr Charles-Jones.
It takes under half an hour a day to bed down the cubicles with straw, plus an hour twice a day to scrape the wide cubicle passageways and outside loafing area, and to feed a maize based ration down the central passageway.
Since moving cows into the new building, somatic cell counts have fallen from 200,000 to 165,000/ml.
"I have noticed that the cows now spend more time lying down in their cubicles, and that the incidence of lameness in the herd has gone down."
Asked if he would make any changes if doing it all again, he says that the only small fault is the overlapping of the end gates, which could have easily been avoided by making the wide feeding passages just a foot narrower.
"I might also have reduced the height of the heelstone by an inch if I was starting from scratch again, but overall I am very impressed with the quality of the work that has been done for me here."
Mr Charles-Jones runs his milkers, herd average 7000 litres at 3.87% fat and 3.35% protein, on just 56ha (140 acres) of the farm, with the balance of 240ha (600 acres) in arable crops.
Cropping on the cow acreage last year comprised 24ha (60 acres) of forage maize, 10ha (25 acres) of whole-crop wheat and 22ha (55 acres) of grass.
"I find that grass is an expensive crop to grow and make into silage, but I think I may have moved just a little too far away from it," says Mr Charles-Jones, who also buys-in some forage maize to balance his winter feeding needs.n
John Charles-Jones: "One of the few things that upsets me is seeing dirty cows on dairy farms."
The timber-framed 150-cow building at Chapel Farm, Bentley, was cheaper than a steel-framed building and offered better cow comfort.
Wooden-framed cubicles are lined with a waterproof mattress and bedded with straw daily. It takes less than half an hour a day to bed the cubicles.
• Timber framed building.
• Cubicle mattresses.
• Bedded daily with straw.