September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Cow comfort linked to meeting global food needs
That same survey found that 77 percent of Wisconsin's dairy cows are in freestall barns. But sometimes freestall barns aren't perfect. Nigel Cook, head of food animal production medicine in the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, talked about improving cow comfort during a recent web seminar sponsored by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW).
Cook said agriculture will continue to keep facing challenges. For one thing, global demand for food is expected to keep increasing.
"By 2050, we will need to feed nine billion people. This will require 100 percent more feed, 20 percent of it from new farmland, 10 percent from increased cropping intensity, and 70 percent from the continued use of safe, efficacious technology to increase productivity," Cook said.
There's an added challenge, too.
"How do we create a profitable dairy industry and provide enough food for everyone, while safe-guarding animal welfare?" he said.
For one thing, farmers can pay closer attention to cow comfort, since comfort is thought to be associated with fewer injuries, less disease and higher milk production.
Herd size is also somewhat associated with higher production. Cook used numbers from AgSource that show that herds of 500 to 1,000 cows - in general - produce more milk per cow.
Those at 500 to 1,000 cows average 84 pounds of milk per day, while those with more than 1,000 cows average a bit less - 81 pounds per day. Herds of fewer than 100 cows average 66 pounds of milk per cow, per day.
While larger herds tend to have higher per-cow production, they are not without problems. Cook mentioned lameness, fresh-cow health and mastitis.
In particular, he said, "There appears to be a lameness problem associated with higher production, the use of freestalls and larger herds."
Cook mentioned what he called simple, science-based messages that can help increase cow comfort and milk production. They include using sand as bedding, sizing stalls to fit cows, providing at least 30 inches of feedbunk space per cow and social stability - not moving cows into new groups too often.
Recent research in Wisconsin involved 557 AgSource herds of more than 200 cows each and that were likely to be housed in freestall barns. This study found 16 variables that Cook said best explain the differences in herd performance. Among the variables were herd size, frequency of milking, turnover rate, cow death rate, the amount of energy-correct milk the cows produced, the number of days the cows were in milk and their age at first calving.
Efforts to telephone the herd owners or managers and ask them questions yielded 201 responses. The questions, said Cook, were basic and regarded facility design and management and they focused on the highest-producing group of mature cows.
The survey found that the use of sand - sometimes referred to as the gold standard, when it comes to dairy cow bedding - was linked to higher milk production. Herds bedded with sand had an average of 27,234 pounds of milk per cow. Herds bedded with mattresses had average production of 24,695 pounds per cow - 2,539 pounds less.
The amount of energy-corrected milk the sand-bedded herds produced averaged 91 pounds per cow, Cook said. By contrast, cows bedded on mattresses averaged 84 pounds a day.
Farms using sand for bedding had lower somatic cell (SCC) counts, too. Their average was 214,000, compared to 227,000 for farms using mattresses.
Differences were seen in the amount of cow turnover, too. It was 36 percent on farms bedding with sand, versus 38 percent on farms using mattresses.
Cook said the differences were not only evident in the United States, but also overseas. In Denmark, cows bedded with sand averaged 24,600 pounds of milk a year. The number for farms using mattresses was 22,086 pounds, and for farms using cow mats, the average was 22,992. That meant, said Cook, sand provided a benefit of 2,514 additional pounds of milk per cow, per year.
Cook went on to note that he visited 66 Wisconsin herds and gathered data on the well-being of the highest-producing groups of cows. He scored cows on their locomotion, hock condition, back and neck condition, and overall hygiene.
Of the top-producing groups on those 66 farms, 61 percent of the cow pens were in two-row freestall barns. Sixty-two percent of the farms used sand for bedding and 30 percent used mattresses.
He also looked at stall width. Seventy-six percent of the stalls were wider than 47 inches. Eighty-three percent of the barns were equipped with headlocks. The mean stocking density on the 66 farms was 1.15 cows per stall.
The effect of the stall base on a cows well-being was also assessed. Eleven percent of the cows in sand-bedded stalls were lame, and two percent were severely lame.
With mattresses, 17.5 percent of the cows were lame and 3.3 percent were severely lame. For cows in stalls with deep bedding, 13 percent were lame and 2.9 percent fell into the "severe lame" category.
Sand did not perform as well when it came to knee injuries. With sand, 57.7 percent of the cows had knee injuries, compared to 45.2 percent of the cows on mattresses, and 46.9 percent of the cows in deeply bedded stalls.
But stalls with sand did seem better at preventing hock injuries. For sand-bedded stalls, 33.6 percent of the cows had hock injuries, compared to 82.5 percent on mattresses and 59.1 percent in deep bedding.
Sand outperformed deep bedding when it came to neck injuries, but mattresses ranked the best. When it came to back injuries, sand ranked the best, followed by mattresses and then deep bedding.
Turning to stalls themselves, Cook said those 50 inches wide are better than those 45 inches wide, and stalls 120 inches long are better for cow well-being than those 96 inches long. Longer, wider stalls give cows more room to bob and lunge as they attempt to lie and rise. For stalls that face each other, a total length of 17 feet seems to be good, Cook said.
Floors, cow brushes
Cook was asked about concrete floors in barns, cow travel areas and holding pens. How does a cobblestone finish compare to grooves?
Cook said he does "not favor the cobblestone approach. It can leave some very rough, uneven edges when done poorly, and even when done well, the grooves are too shallow. You may get good grip for a year or so, but it will soon wear slick.
"The idea behind a groove 3.25 inches on center is that it will not wear away," he added. "And whenever a cow stands, her foot is always over a groove, giving increased grip."
How about rotating cow brushes? Are they worth buying?
Cook said he had not had any "direct experience with the use of brushes. Several studies have shown that cows really like using them, and that is apparent when we visit herds and see them in use. There is always a line of cows waiting for a brush up."
He said, "Whether or not the benefits turn into milk or other health benefits, I'm unsure. But sometimes it's nice to do things for cows just because it's a good thing to do."[[In-content Ad]]
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