Can your cow’s environment and comfort have an impact on her production and milk components?
Researchers and animal scientists are saying a resounding, “Yes!”
Ongoing studies have shown remarkable increases in production and components in herds that have been shifted from overcrowded, small stalls and co-mingled herds to herds grouped by lactation number (first lactation, second lactation, etc.), are not overcrowded and have larger stalls.
Animal Scientist Dr. Heather Dann of Miner Institute spoke to over 150 attendees at the 2016 Central New York Dairy Day in Cooperstown, NY, on how optimizing cow comfort in free stall facilities will promote healthier cows and higher production resulting in economic gains.
Dann, who grew up on a tie stall dairy farm, said she is amazed at how diverse opinions are on what cow comfort is and how it should be measured.
“I really think cow comfort is a function of the cow’s management environment. What I mean by that is; I want to consider the cow’s physical environment, what is the housing that she’s in, the air quality — all of the components that make up where her home office is located.”
Dann also emphasized focusing on individual cow’s social environment — not only her interaction with other cows, but how she interacts with people and how people interact with her. “Both of these environments are going to impact the cow’s behavior.”
Key areas of resting, ruminating and feeding were focused on. “These are really going to have an impact on whether the cow is productive, whether she’s healthy — and overall it’s going to affect her well being — and that’s really what we’re more concerned about when we think about cow comfort.”
Three critical things impacting the cow’s comfort and well being are; excessive time outside the pen, uncomfortable stalls and inadequate feed availability. “We really can mess up these three things by overcrowding our cows and having excessive competition within a pen.”
Frequent movement of close up and fresh cows and excessive time spent in headlocks, will all negatively impact them.
Dann said cow comfort can be measured by animal responses including body condition scores, hock scores and lameness, feed intake and lying time.
Lying down is high priority with dairy cows and they chose to lie down when ruminating. In fact, research shows that cows will sacrifice their feeding time to make up for lost resting time; impacting production.
“The cow desires to lie about 12 hours per day,” said Dann, “and if you restrict her ability to lie — because we’ve overcrowded the pen or because we’ve kept her outside the pen — she’ll actually sacrifice her willingness to go and eat and she’ll go and find a stall.”
Social ranking in the herd also affects which cows use free stalls to lie down, with the youngest cows bullied out of opportunity to rest. Research shows that cows do not recover from deprived resting time exceeding two hours per day.
One report states that for each resting hour lost, 3.7 pounds of milk is also lost, per cow per day.
“We want to make sure when we are setting up our management factors and designing facilities that we do things that are going to promote lying behavior. The Miner database suggests that when we can increase cow’s lying time by about an hour, we’re going to get about 3.5 pounds of milk.”
Although the number will vary from farm to farm, 3.5 lbs. is used as a benchmark.
Dann reported that cows whose time was lessened from 6 hours outside the pen to 3 hours, increased their resting/lying time for about 2.5 hours and increased their milk production at an average of 5 pounds more milk. First lactation heifers showed an even larger response, with an increase in resting/lying time to about 4 hours and an increase in milk production of almost 8 pounds. “That’s a tremendous economic impact on farms, just by changing some management routines that can decrease the time outside the pen,” Dann remarked.
Studies and observations led by renowned animal scientist Dr. Rick Grant, President of William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, figuring on a 24 hour time budget, show a cow’s time budget allots 3 to 5 hours feeding, 7 to 10 hours ruminating, approximately 30 minutes per day drinking and10 to 12 hours of lying time. Therefore, cows should only spend on average, 2.5 to 3.5 hours per day outside the pen for milking and other management practices. “Every farmer should know how long their cows spend outside the pen in a free-stall barn.”
Consequences of extra standing time impacts lameness and Dann displayed charts showing that lameness and hock injury is a major concern in Northeast farms. “This is an area that I’m really concerned about as we move forward with animal welfare assessments — that this is going to be an opportunity area for a lot of our farms.”
Dann said a majority of Northeast farms show 40 percent of cows with some type of limp. “That’s going to be a real problem area.” Study results report that cows spending more time outside of the pen spend more time standing and display more signs of lameness.
Animal scientists recommend segregating lame cows so they don’t have to compete with the rest of the herd for feed and resting space. More effective management is key.
Dann pointed out a difference in the cow’s ‘time budget,’ between first lactation animals and mature cows. First lactation animals tend to take smaller bites, eat more slowly and frequently, spending more time feeding than mature cows. When herds are co-mingled, younger heifers are easily displaced from feed, water and stalls by mature, dominate cows and suffer from the competition, which shows up in production, rumination and overall health.
“All of these things together really result in less milk and less components that we’re going to be paid for. Really this lower fat content is due to changes in the rumen environment due to changes in their feeding behavior.” This ultimately impacts their efficiency and their weight, compromising their immune systems and setting them up for illness.
Studies prove that grouping first lactation heifers together improves production by about 500 pounds of milk over the course of that lactation.
Dann reported on one farm that moved their first lactation heifers to a separate pen — without changing feed or any other management practices — and saw nearly an hour increase in rumination.
“That has tremendous implications for rumen health and potentially milk yield and milk components,” said Dann, remarking that there are many non-dietary factors in management decisions that can positively influence production yield and components.
For instance, farms that increased feed pushup saw an increase in production. Farms with more available stalls also saw an increase. Clean, deeply bedded, dry stalls, air quality and heat abatement all impact production and cow health. Stocking density is a key issue, with studies showing that farms stocking at 120 percent or more, have no high producing herds. Dann remarked that overcrowding results in a number of changes in herd behavior causing economic losses in production, components, milk quality (such as somatic cell counts), fewer pregnancies, overall cow health and more culling.
“Sometimes very simple changes in a facility or simple management changes can make a huge difference,” commented Dave Balbian CNY Regional Dairy Specialist.
For more information go to www.whminer.org.