A cow’s view of barn design

During the first day of the Cow Longevity conference the talks and discussions will be focused on the dairy cow’s environment and whether she has the opportunity to act according to her needs, for an optimal production of milk.

The working day of a dairy cow (Lene Munksgaard, Denmark)

With a cow’s eye view of barn design, critical factors are most likely related to whether or not the cow can fulfil high priority behaviour and avoid fear, pain and discomfort. Behavioural priorities depend on both internal and external factors, and in dairy cows internal factors such as milk yield and age can affect both feeding and lying behaviour. The yield of cows increases with age, especially from first to second and third parity. Thus increased production life time yield is expected to increase the proportion of cows in second and later lactations and this may change the demand to the barn design and management.

Cows are social animals but they compete for access to resources. Competition can induce stress responses, and under time constraints especially high producing dairy cows may be in a trade-off situation between lying and eating. To provide the high producing dairy cow with proper working conditions she should have free access to feed and resting areas.

Walking and standing areas for longevity (Christer Bergsten, Sweden)

High yielding dairy cows are housed for most of the year, most of their production cycle, or most of their life. When dairy cows are confined, as in a free stall system, their feet (when standing) and legs (when lying) are influenced in several ways: wear, trauma, loading, and by microorganisms especially if the hygiene is poor. Moreover, exposure for environmental risk factors are also important and therefore cow traffic is of concern in the planning. Even if the lying area is of outmost importance it cannot compensate for poor flooring because animals still have to move around to socialize, to feed and to be milked. The ability for each specific function such as resting, standing and walking must, therefore, be optimized. That means a soft yielding floor with, enough friction to reduce claw over growth yet preventing over wear and avoiding poor hygiene by ensuring as dry and clean floors as possible. Although optional, some kind of foot wash is beneficial.

Lying area design and barn climate getting it right (Frank van Eerdenburg, Netherlands)

Cows that live in a semi-natural environment, on a pasture-based farm, can live over 15 years of age. In barn based systems, however, this is an exception, as the barn environment is not as good for the dairy cows as pasture. Most farmers try to cater for their cows’ needs, but their efforts to keep the barn clean and the cost of equipment are usually of major importance as well. The modern farmer, though, realizes that an increase in average age of the herd is also beneficial economically. Replacement cows cost a substantial amount of money and labour, which may be earned back in the second or third lactation. Proper conditions in the barn are, therefore, crucial for the results of a farm.

Maximized feed intake – access and consumption (Trevor DeVries, Canada)

How, when and what the cow eats has a significant impact on digestion, health, and efficiency, and this knowledge can be used to improve housing and feeding management strategies. Dairy cattle need to be provided good access to, and enough, feed at the right times and frequency to ensure they can meet their requirements, satisfy their natural feeding behaviour patterns, and consume their feed in a healthy manner. A study from Canada shows that a 10 cm/cow increase in feed bunk space led to an increase in milk fat and a decrease of somatic cell count in the herd.

The beneficial effects of cooling cows (Israel Flamenbaum, Israel)

High yielding cows in hot climates suffer severely from summer heat stress for a few months during every year - which leads to a decrease in annual milk production and feed efficiency. Fertility rate is reduced and more post-calving health problems appear - thus increasing the calving interval and culling rate due to low productive and reproductive performances. The goal of cow cooling is to positively impact the modern global Dairy Sector by significantly extending the lifetime of the dairy cow by increasing their productivity while assuring they maintain good health and fertility. Over the last 3 decades efficient cow cooling systems have been developed all over the world and successfully implemented in dairy farms.

Cow Longevity Conference 2013

Maximized feed intake – access and consumption

Interview with Trevor DeVries, University of Guelph

“What we see in the industry is that cows aren’t lasting very long in our herds. Too often they are being culled too early, either voluntarily or involuntarily. I do view this as an issue, because I think there are a lot of things we could be taking advantage of. There is a lot of knowledge out there, and more knowledge to come, so if we put all this together we can get more longevity out of our cows.”

Read the interview here>>

Cow Longevity Conference 2013

Designing for longevity

Interview with Christer Bergsten, Swedish University of Agriculture

During the second session of day 1 the focus will be on the cow's environment and how we can design the barn to best support her. Christer Bergsten from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences will talk about the importance of walking and standing surfaces.

"Floor design is closely related to lameness, which in turn is related to cow longevity and sustainability," he says.

Read the interview here>>