Improving cow comfort at Envision Dairy LLCby Michael Wren

FLORIDA, NY — People have known for ages that a healthier and happier cow equates to better milk production and quality. However, even with this knowledge it can be easy to take the wrong steps toward cow comfort or push off improvements until a better time, which may or may not come. The truth is that not all improvements will be costly or time consuming.

Over the winter, Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted multiple seminars aimed at educating farmers about cow comfort. During one seminar, CCE Area Dairy Management Specialist David Balbian acknowledged the complexities of choosing the right improvement to make on the farm. He reminded farmers that when choosing the right course of action to “evaluate more than one option to see the effects on the budget and always do a post evaluation of the improvement.”
Envision Dairy LLC, located in Amsterdam, NY, hosted a farm tour in conjunction with the CCE seminar. Envision Dairy has 19 partners with Terry Carroll running the day-to-day operations on the farm. They have been making improvements on the farm for cow comfort and production since they began 11 years ago. They started with 125 head and a couple outdated barns. Shortly after acquiring the farm, Envision Dairy added two new barns, keeping in mind that proper ventilation is necessary, and filled them with first-lactation cows.

The newest barn was built to utilize the ventilation and curtain systems in tandem while the older barns were retrofitted with extra fans to fix dead-air spots. The new fans are temperature controlled and have variable speed to allow better control of ventilation as well as reduce electricity usage.

Further renovations included enlarging an undersized footbath and moving it to the return alley in order to improve foot health and reduce lameness among the herd.

Always striving to improve, Envision Dairy increased cow comfort and reduced mastitis by adding fresh sand for bedding and grooming it more frequently. They add lime daily to the back of the stalls and have also adjusted stall dimensions to allow the cows easier access to feed. Other improvements include the addition of soaker systems above feed bunks that help to break summer heat, which in turn can help to reduce standing time and increase comfort.

Partner Edward Varnum, who attended the cow comfort seminar and hosted the group on the farm, said they have made several changes with an eye on improving all aspects of the farm. A few of these changes included some composting this past autumn for waste feed to reduce hauling and spreading costs. They hire their manure to be spread and now use a dragline to incorporate the manure in the ground, which reduces potential runoff.

“That also keeps the heavy equipment and mud off the road, resulting in less soil compaction in the fields and a safer way to spread manure,” said Varnum.

Incorporating the manure also results in higher yields per acre and potentially high feed quality to reduce purchased feed costs. About three years ago they started using a vibratory roller to compact feed to reduce feed losses, reduce storage area and improve feed quality. They also use an oxygen-limiting plastic underlayment to reduce forage shrink in storage.

Looking toward the future, Envision Dairy plans to continue making improvements around the farm. According to Varnum, the next steps may be updating the milking parlor.

“We may look at more automation when that occurs, if the budget allows,” said Varnum. Envision Dairy may also add a commodity building to store lime, bedding and to potentially take advantage of any byproducts to feed cows, Varnum added.