by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Betsy Hicks, SCNY Dairy & Field Crops Team, Cornell Regional Dairy Specialist, spoke about assessing lameness in dairy cows, during the 2nd Annual Cow Comfort Conference, hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension, North Country Regional Ag Team, and the South Central NY Dairy & Field Crops Team, at Liverpool, NY.
“We really have to be concerned about consumer perception,” remarked Hicks. “There are a lot of things that consumers don’t understand about us. Lame to us may not be the same as lame to the consumers.”
Hicks reported on recent research, including studies she and Lindsay Ferlito, Cornell North Country Regional Ag Team, had conducted.
Ferlito and Hicks studied and documented lameness on 10 tie stall dairies, comparing results to Farmers Assurance Responsible Management (FARM) 3.0 standards.
Facts collected substantiated the impact of lameness on cow comfort.
Hicks noted the impact of housing on lameness. Stall size, stall base, bedding and access to pasture led the list of their research.
“Producers in the tie stall herds we studied are on par for what the industry has observed in terms of lameness and lying times,” Hicks commented. “When we compare our 10 herd benchmark to FARM 3.0 standards, we have a little bit of work to do on some line items, while others are meeting FARM standards.”
Hicks remarked that a variety of individual herds of different herd size and management style, were studied. Standards apply to both free stall and tie stall.
“It remains that management of cows and stalls will always supersede meeting recommendations. Even though some herds had stalls that fit their cows better, lack of regular trimming or poor stall management would result in higher injury rate or increased locomotion score. Conversely, herds that provided deep bedding to stalls that didn’t quite meet industry recommendations for size were able to overcome those obstacles and maintain low incidence of injury.”
She reported that types of bedding are not as important as amount and quality. “As long as you have a lot of it in there, you’re going to be better off.”
Access to pasture seemed to result in a lower level of lameness.
Stall size has a direct impact on lameness.
“In today’s industry, producers have to think about Cow Comfort from several different angles. Dairy farmers, first and foremost, have to constantly strive to keep up with improving cow comfort for their animals, whether it be by paying attention to new research on animal behavior around calving, adapting stalls to growing cow size, or building new facilities to ensure they meet standards.”
Hicks reminded producers to look at ‘Cow Comfort’ through a non-farm audience’s lens.
“Are the things we do as an industry able to be backed up by sound science? Do people know how much farmers care about their land, animals and way of life? And thirdly, producers have to make changes for their business that make sense in terms of profitability, even if it means making a drastic change like moving towards using robotic milkers. These changes need to be explored on individual operations, and having benchmarks put out by service providers help to shed light on numbers behind making a switch.”
Bruce Dehm, Agricultural Economist, Dehm Associates, Geneseo, NY said the field of robotics and automation is progressing much faster than we realize.
Dehm presented results of recent 2016 studies comparing economics of a variety of robotic dairies and parlor farms across New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont for an entire calendar year.
Included in this study, were 14-robotic dairies and 43-parlor farms. Robotic dairies that were studied had all been in operation for at least one year. Start-up robotic farms were not included.
Robotic farms averaged 200 total cows per farm. Parlor farms averaged 775 cows/ farm.
Financial performance on each farm was measured on a whole-farm basis.
“To understand the financial performance of dairy farms that milk cows with robotic milking systems, Dehm Associates LLC completed a whole-farm analysis of income, expense and debt service,” commented Dehm. “Results show that the cost per hundredweight on robotic and parlor farms was precisely the same at $18.69 with noted variation between line items. Net income per cwt was $.49/cwt higher on robot farms due to higher crop sales as an income source. Milk shipped per cow/day averaged 79.5 lbs. on robot farms and 80.5 lbs. on parlor farms. Milk price on robot farms averaged $.28/cwt lower than parlor farms at $16.23. Term debt service (principal and interest) on parlor farms was $2.73/cwt. On robot farms, term debt service averaged $2.75/cwt.”
Study results included parts and repairs of both parlor milking equipment and robotic equipment. “Repairs per hundredweight are only different by $.01 between systems.”
Dehm says he believes there are three reasons why farms will turn to automation of farm chores at an increased rate.
“Government policy is making labor more expensive than it would be under normal market conditions,” Dehm points out. “Increases in the minimum wage and no policy for legal access to off-shore labor are the major contributors. Also, it’s been a generation since the first Hispanic workers arrived. I believe that they are following a similar pattern as previous immigrant groups in that the second generation is less willing to take the same labor-intensive work.”
Dehm also believes that “borrowed money is still very low on a historical basis, making the cost of capital artificially low.”
When you add improved technology to that mix, robotics look even better.
“Technology, especially robotics are becoming better and cheaper and progressing at a very fast pace,” concludes Dehm.
Dr. Trevor DeVries, Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, addressed robotic dairies and studies on lameness and other areas of cow comfort.
DeVries said although robotic milking dairies present many opportunities to producers, there are challenges to consider, including good mobility, time and desire to milk voluntarily, good access to the milking unit, and comfortable stalls / resting area surfaces, with easy accessibility.
“Ensuring good cow comfort is critical for robotic milking farms to ensure cows are willing and able to milk voluntarily. This is achieved by providing adequately sized, comfortable stalls, and ensuring good access to feed, lying areas, and the robot.”
For more information on cow comfort contact Dr. Kimberley Morrill at
Click here to read part 1 of our coverage.