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|Nature vs. nurture: Cow comfort and its effect on animal health|
|El Lechero Dairy Basics - Herd Health|
|Written by Fabian Bernal|
|Friday, 29 April 2011 13:52|
Metabolic and environmental stress during the transition period and through lactation alters the efficiency of the immune system, making cows more susceptible to infectious diseases with subsequent impairment of productive and reproductive performance; as well as the physiological consequences of a stressful environment. This includes competition for feed and ranking within the group, cow comfort, overall environment, weather and human contact with animals, among others.
The role of dairy managers and herdsmen is to ensure that good agricultural, hygienic and animal husbandry practices are employed. The focus should be on preventing a problem rather than solving it after it has occurred.However, as much as the industry has focused on improving management, there are still things individuals can always do better to keep cows clean, dry and comfortable. Utilize full hygiene programs as prevention methods. These are very important areas that have a direct effect in milk quality, herd health, animal welfare and animal longevity.
Providing adequate clean/dry bedding and a good resting place is critical for not only adequate lying time for our “ladies,” but it is also important to maintain healthy uncontaminated udders and pain-free animals. According to Roger Palmer, University of Wisconsin–Madison dairy scientist, each hour of reduced lying time results in two pounds less milk production per cow.
Nigel Cook and Ken Nordlund, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, say the difference between a good freestall design and a disastrous one is often only a few inches.
There is practical evidence suggesting that cows housed in freestall facilities on concrete floors are required to rest a minimum of 12 to 14 hours a day in a comfortable place. When their time is challenged through increased time out of the pen milking, overcrowding, poor stall design and prolonged time spent in holding pens, the outcome is an increase in lameness and mastitis.
Thirty percent more blood is pumped through the cows’ udders when they are laying down versus standing up, increasing milk production. Cows actually prioritize rest over eating, leading us to a common problem, diagonal lying and perching.
Perching describes cows standing with their front feet in the stall and rear feet in the alley. Claw horn diseases of the rear feet are more common in barns with perching cows.
Perching contributes to contamination of udders, teats, legs and tails, as well as risks of mastitis. This behavior may last for several minutes or greater than one hour.
Diagonal lying is a complex behavioral issue resulting from a variety of stall design faults, but stall width is often blamed. The most significant issues leading to diagonal lying include adjacent cows in head-to-head stalls on an area that is too short curb-to-curb, brisket locators that are too high, inadequate lunge space, head bob restrictions and neck rails that are too close to the rear curb, not allowing the cow to move freely.
Some of the stall requirements include a clean, comfortable resting place, easy to enter and exit, easy to stand up and lie down in keeping cows from injury, long-lasting, and easy to clean with minimum labor. If done correctly we can increase performance and production, reduce clinical mastitis and, at the same time, often lower the cost of making stalls usable.
“Cows never lie.” We have to stop, take a look and hear what they are telling us.
We have studied freestalls enough; cow comfort cannot stop just there. Reducing heat stress during the summer months is a key factor in dairy production.
Lactating cattle produce large amounts of heat due to digestion and metabolic processes, and this heat must be exchanged with the environment to maintain normal body temperature. Cattle exchange heat through the mechanisms of convection, conduction, evaporation and radiation.
Getting cows’ backs wet and then evaporating water from the surface of cattle with well-positioned fans represents the most efficient method to remove heat from cattle. However, design flaws have resulted in facilities that do not effectively modify the environment.
We want to maintain near-optimum temperature for production and health; we would like to remove pathogens, noxious gases and dust as fast as possible and, at the same time, control excess moisture and increase available fresh air in the barn.
In terms of headlocks vs. feed rail, there is no information that supports the idea that headlocks are detrimental to feed intake, provided animals have been trained to use them before critical periods. Headlocks provide easy management and reduce aggressive displacements between neighbors.
On the other hand, with feed rails it is vital to position them well above the cow-side alley at 46-50 inches to the bottom of the neck rail and six to 10 inches forward of the cow-side toward the feeding curb. If not done properly, we will see the cows eating in diagonals, not able to perform normal grassing behaviors, and we may even see a pronounced injury to the back of their neck.
Let’s get back to the basics; water is the single most important ingredient in a dairy diet, and often the most underestimated. Provide three feet of available water area for 10 to 15 cows and crossovers should be a minimum of 12 feet from the edge of the water trough to the wall.
Providing such space will allow cows to pass behind those that are drinking without disturbing them. One thing all water trough units have in common is the need to be cleaned regularly.
The holding pen or pre-milk area is usually the most stressful area for a dairy cow. Cows cooled in a holding pen usually produce 1.7- 4.0 pounds more milk per day than cows that are not cooled in the holding pens.
Alternative confinement systems and even grazing facilities should always take into consideration cow comfort and the detrimental effect of a bad environment on cow performance and health. Remember, if consistency and cow comfort is improved, cows will reach their top potential. EL
References omitted due to space but available upon request to