At the 2017 Maryland Dairy Convention Program for the Maryland Dairy Industry Association at the FSK Holiday Inn and Conference Center, Frederick, MD, the theme was Improving Performance through Better Cow Well-Being.
There were a variety of speakers, including Nigel Cook, DVM, University of Wisconsin, Madison who spoke on two subjects: Barn Remodeling to Enhance Cow Performance, Health and Well-Being, and Constructing the Ideal Barn.
Dr. Cook was outspoken about the ability of the United States to compete with both the Canadians and the European nations in milk production and the comfort and keeping of the cows involved.
The crux of his talk was the importance of creating a well-planned barn in order to create not only comfort for the cow, but also to maximize the use of the dairy workers on the farms.
He spoke knowledgeably of the robot systems which are possible to install and of the different possible layouts of the barns which might hold up to 1,000 cows, if the farmer had the vision and the available initial investment to build one.
Dr. Cook said, “We are starting to get smarter about installing these systems to U.S. needs. All of the talk is about robot facilities being different but really, they are much the same. Cows are cows after all.”
He went on to say, “I think that what we are starting to see is that these structures are evolving in the U.S. and that these systems can be better — indeed, they have to be better.”
He led the attendees through one method after another and through the permutations of those arrangements, both by readjustment and by simply reversing and doubling the systems so there could be one system for 50 cows on one side of a structure and then simply flip (so to speak) the system and build it for another 50 cows on the other side of the barn. But he noted it “did little to help with the work routine.” He continued on with the possibility of two pens of 100 cows each mirroring the other and set up the additional pen systems where cows could be bred and/or vetted if needed.
He mentioned the major problem of the future would be finding the dairy workers to manage the herds and then said he was getting concerned about optimizing transition time for the cows, with some of them walking as far as a mile on concrete, which he noted “was hard on the hooves”.
He said, taking all of this into consideration, he generally ends up with a 2,000 cow unit which he called a 2,000 cow tunnel system with 50 robots in service and said, “it is close to reality!”
The cost of this unit is figured on a series of 200 stall pens and Dr. Cook figures it would be costed out at a possible figure of about $2,500 per stall to build the barn, plus an additional cost for the ventilation systems as well.
At the end of this talk Dr. Cook did say, “If anyone thinks I’m nuts, well, maybe, but if you leave a guy in a room long enough I guess that’s what happens,” which brought a small round of chuckles. But the farmers in the room were certainly given solid data not only to think about but quite possibly to bring to tangible completion as well.