Some producers intending to
expand milk output may be
looking at cheap housing.
What about no housing at
all? James Garner reports
on an out-wintering pad proving successful in Ireland
DAIRY cows need to be molly-cuddled. They are supposed to be kept warm and should be housed during winter, so they can stand in the warm and cost you a fortune in straw.
This is not a tongue in cheek comment: It is a principle that many dairy producers have become used to. Nevertheless, one Irish producer has turned it on its head and cows are now kept outside during winter as well. Heartless, you may say, but this seasons post calving figures suggest his cows are in better condition because of it.
There are currently 175 cows at Moneymore Farm, Roscrea, Co Offaly, and this year most of them successfully spent their first winter outside on a stand-off pad, says James Dwyer. "I reckon the cows are 0.25 of a condition score better this year than last."
According to him the cows love the pad. After feeding on self-feed silage all day, they look forward to getting back on it. "They cant wait to come back to the pad; they really are very content on it."
A desire to expand his business was the real stimulus for Mr Dwyer and his wife Grainne, to put up an out-wintering yard for his cows, rather than spend money on buildings. "It was the last real improvement to be made," he says. "I wanted to double cow numbers, but we never had the buildings to sustain or satisfy large numbers of cows."
A trip to New Zealand inspired him to try an open stand-off pad, consisting largely of drainage stone, sand and topped with 0.6m (2ft) of wood bark chippings. At a cost of £IR55/cow, it is far cheaper than new buildings, but still expensive enough to surprise a visiting contingent of English and Welsh farmers.
There are a number of pitfalls to avoid, he says. One is the lack of information about how to construct a stand-off pad and the factors that need to be considered. The Dwyers countered this by talking to people with stand-off pads in New Zealand and collected as much information as they could.
They soon discovered that, like buying a house, one area that must not be overlooked is location. According to Mr Dwyer three factors, in particular, must be considered: where will the pad be in relation to the self-feed silage pit; where will it be most sheltered from the prevailing wind; and how accessible is it for the cows.
The other major concern, says Mr Dwyer, was public access. In his experience, he believes it is best to situate the pad away from a main road, so the general public cannot see cows outside all winter.
This, he explains, is not because cows are suffering. "Its the publics perception that counts. We have nothing to hide, but if cows are getting wet all day, then some people will feel it is bad for them." For this reason, he suggests keeping cows away from the road.
However, Mr Dwyer reckons there were only 10-12 bad days this winter when the weather was really rough. "Is this justification for putting up buildings? Once out, the cows grow thicker coats and adjust." It also makes life easier when you turn them out to grass in spring and this is a real boost to the cows, he adds.
• Cows out-wintered.
• Cuts wintering costs.
• Cows in good condition.