Staying in the laneby Troy Bishopp

GROTON, NY – If ever there was a time to improve a cow lane out to the pasture, it would be now. With recent rains improving forage quality and growth, dairy cows and livestock are poised to optimize performance. That’s if they can get to the pasture in an efficient and safe manner.

In a recent pasture walk, Dan and Eric Carey of Carey Farm in Groton, NY, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops Team hosted a group of new and seasoned farmers to talk about the Careys’ decision to pave laneways and how it has influenced profitability on the conventional grass farm.

“When you have 250 cows going to pasture every day, good laneways are a must,” said Dan.

It wasn’t always this way, as the fourth and fifth generation of Careys started their grazing system in the early 1990s with just 50 acres being rotated close to the barn. Now the farm has 200 acres at their disposal and the old gravel laneway system needed an upgrade. That was because of lameness issues in the mostly Holstein herd.

“Our sick pen seemed to always have five to 10 cows with small stone-related ailments,” said Eric. “It was costing us money, time and increased maintenance to keep up with the rain events. It was time for a positive change.”

They took the leap two years ago, working with a local contractor to start asphalt paving a 12-foot-wide, three-inch-deep laneway designed just for cows over their existing compacted gravel starting at their covered barnyard and running for over 1,700 feet out to the pasture fields. The total initial investment was $73,000. With a projected 15-year lifespan, Farm Business Management Specialist Mary Kate MacKenzie shared how her partial budget analysis determined the pavement had a four-year payback period.

Eric and Dan cited their benefits: reducing lameness, reducing cull rate, reducing walking time and increasing milk production while lessening hoof trimming and wear and tear on their UTV. The combination of factors saw a positive change to net profits of $18,742 per year. Each year they look to keep investing in more asphalt, “because the cows really like it,” said Eric.

In addition to the laneway feature, the Careys and guests engaged in discussions on fertility management, no-till planting, pasture compaction, herd health, grazing management, shade accessibility and watering a large herd. The gracious hosts also led a tour of their spotless facilities and milking center.