by Elizabeth Tomlin
Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Pro-Dairy and Central New York Dairy/Field Crops Team recently presented workshops on new technologies and studies aimed at improving dairy resiliency. The topics involving breeding programs and dairy profitability were covered in an article in the March 25 edition of Country Folks.
Jackson Wright addressed advances made in LED lighting, which is becoming popular for dairy producers and also reported on field research results.
Research has shown that proper lighting is not only essential for barn safety, but also for optimal cow performance.
“Previous research has shown that lactating dairy cows exposed to 16 to 18 hours of light increases milk production by approximately 5.1 pounds per cow per day,” reported Wright. Those hours of light need to be followed by “6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted darkness.”
Wright explained that lights need to be strategically placed so that all areas of the barn achieve a minimum light level of 150 to 200 lux (or 15 to 20 foot candles) at cow level. This means lighting fixtures must be lower than previously designed.
He advises consulting with a lighting engineer for both placement and type of lighting fixtures, to determine if the light output meets with what is required to “stimulate milk yield in all areas of the barn.”
He discussed several different types of lighting that are popular in dairy barns and the pros and cons of each. T8 fluorescent, metal halide, high-pressure sodium, and LED are the common lighting fixtures found. “Each fixture has a unique set of benefits and drawbacks,” Wright said. “For instance, fluorescent lights are energy efficient and can provide adequate light output. They are also relatively inexpensive and usually pay for themselves within two years of installation. On the other hand, fluorescent fixtures require maintenance, perform poorly under cold or hot conditions, and contain mercury which could be disastrous should a bulb break around lactating cows. High intensity discharge (HID) fixtures, such as metal halides and high-pressure sodium fixtures can provide ample light at ground level when ceiling heights are greater than 12 feet. However, these fixtures require a long pre-heat or start-up time.”
“LED lights can provide high-energy efficiency with a reported 100,000-hour operating life. This is significantly longer than the reported 20,000 hour operating life of fluorescent and HID fixtures.” Wright said although LED lights are more expensive, they should have lower maintenance costs, contains no mercury, provide instantaneous reliable light in the same spectrum as sunlight and are more reliable under cold conditions, suggesting that LED fixtures may provide the optimum lighting desired. More research is pending on how well suited LED lighting is suited to barn conditions year round.
“Well lit dairy barns have multiple benefits,” commented Dr. Bertoldo. “Workers are safer in areas where there are fewer shadows and less chance of stumbling hazards. People have more positive attitudes in more natural light environments as well. Cows respond to longer hours of “daylight” that mimic summer daytime length through normal biological channels. Light sources vary greatly in intensity, wavelength and rate of output decay. LED lighting offers an interesting potential for energy savings, element longevity and stimulation of milk production despite a relatively high initial capital cost.”
Bertoldo also advised attendees on improving forage quality to improve farm income.
“Better forage management has enabled dairies to produce more of what they feed and increase the amount of nutrition that the cow can get out of hay crop and corn silage.”
Paying attention to dry matter, stage of maturity and harvest methods all impact the value of silage at feedout; and therefore farm profitability.
“Beyond the status of chopped forage going into storage, is the status of packing — exclusion of oxygen, inoculation, covering and feed out methods used on the farm,” stated Bertoldo. “Losses of dry matter between the field and the cow’s mouth can be huge. Most of these losses are difficult to measure, but can represent hundreds of dollars per cow in outright feed loss or missed production opportunity.”
Bertoldo said the new “shredlage” method of harvesting corn silage offers another possibility of getting the most out of your crop.
The shredlage processor actually shreds corn stalks, which results in longer, thinner pieces, improved kernel processing, better starch digestion and an increase in efficiency of NDF.
The first shredlage units are now arriving in New York State and trials are being conducted with good results anticipated.
Optimizing cow comfort is another important aspect of maximizing profits. Studies have shown a definite increase in productivity based on increasing cow comfort. Curt Gooch presented a report on the major components of cow comfort including facility and management.
Gooch stated facilities need to pay attention to ventilation, cow cooling, proper and clean resting areas, feeding areas that provide enough room for the cow to eat without being crowded, clean and plentiful watering areas, appropriate flooring and handling and restraining management.
“Cows should be laying down 50 percent of the time,” Gooch stated, explaining that data shows there is 28 percent more blood flow to the udder when the cows are laying down, which increases milk production. Gooch showed a “logger,” an activity-monitoring device that is attached to the cow’s leg and records the amount of time that the animal is laying down. These devices have shown that comfortable stall’s with low or no overcrowding has positive impacts on cows and their productivity.
Handling of the animals and keeping the environment “low stress” also has a positive effect on productivity — and therefore a positive effect on profitability as well.
“One of the last frontiers in studying cow performance is cow comfort,” stated Dr. Bertoldo. “Hours of cow resting time is correlated well to milk production and is reflected in hoof health and the risk of lameness. Stall design as it impacts ease of cow usage is a primary concern when talking about comfort. This holds true for conventional stanchion and tie stall barns as well as free stalls. Bedding material — particularly sand, can help alleviate to a degree the negative impacts of small stalls or ones with cow barriers. Ideal stall designs permit cows of any size or stage of lactation to lie down and get up without hesitation or delay.”
This program was coordinated by PRO-DAIRY Program at Cornell University.