Refine Cow Comfort to Increase Profitability

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The focus on cow comfort has come a long way in the past 30 years. With this, facility design has also evolved. There's no question farmers put a high priority on comfort and the increased profitability that comes along with it. This is evident from changes in stall size, a focus on ventilation, and new bedding styles.
Dairy facilities specialist, Dan McFarland, emphasizes that producers should zero in on these crucial aspects of cow comfort. They can increase their barn setups to  boost their earnings by doing so.

Ensure adequate ventilation

Do you know that high-yielding cows can exhale moisture ranging from 7 to 7.5 liters just by breathing? In other words, if there isn't enough ventilation in the barn, it might get musty and smell. Such conditions are harmful to both the health and productivity of the animals. By ensuring the barn gets fresh and dry air according to the season, we can control pollutants and offer the animals a much healthier living space.
So how would you know if your place has enough air circulation?
R.E. Graves, a mentor of McFarland, has some insights on this. "If your place smells like a barn, it's a sign your ventilation needs an upgrade.". From his experiences, McFarland notes, "Each farming decision bears both an advantage and a drawback." It's up to the farmers to determine which downside they're willing to accept. That is why there isn't a one-size-fits-all ventilation solution for every farm.
In hot regions, cows significantly benefit from mechanical fans due to the consistent airflow they provide. Yet, there's also an upside to natural ventilation: it's energy-efficient since the wind doesn't cost a thing.
However, there's a downside. Natural ventilation largely depends on how fast and in which direction the wind blows. If there's little to no wind or it's too slow, there won't be enough fresh air. It means that this form of ventilation is predictable.
However, you won't face the same issues with fan systems. Fan systems, whether it's the cross type, tunnel type, or a mix of both, you always know how much fresh air you're getting.
Air circulation is essential because it keeps moisture and heat in check.

Minimize heat stress

Heat stress severely impacts profits. "When a cow's body temperature hits above 102°F, behavior changes. They are less likely to lie down in a stall. This seemingly small change can trigger a domino effect, reducing the quantity and quality of milk produced.

The importance of proper cooling mechanisms should not be overlooked. It's no longer just about comfort. It's essential for productivity. Cooling solutions should always be a farmer's priority whether in holding areas or before giving birth.

In addition, to further lessen the impacts of heat, ensure cows have a regular supply of clean, fresh water. It's a low-effort approach to keep them comfortable and stress-free.

Use appropriately-sized stalls and bedding

The world of stall design has evolved and continues to evolve. Such changes really took off in the 2000s, and even now, we're constantly seeking ways to perfect and refine them.
Back in the day, a 7-foot free-stall was the go-to recommendation. Fast forward to today, and the ideal is 9 to 9.5 feet. The length may vary depending on whether the stall has an open or closed front. In addition, the position of neck rails has risen by about a foot since the 1990s, and stalls have become wider.
But the major shift is in the bedding. Gone are the days of just using concrete. Today, the approach is more about layering comfort. The focus is now more on using more comfortable bedding materials. You may have noticed that it's common to pair mattress alternatives with traditional bedding for that extra layer of comfort.
Do you want to know the secret to happier and cleaner cows? According to MacFarland, it's bedding. Bedding even lowers the risk of injuries.
So, how can you tell if you're giving your cows enough bedding? McFarland points out a telltale sign: if your cows show signs of lameness, you might be skimping on their bedding.
Cows need a dry, comfortable place to rest, free from the risk of injury. Therefore bedding is specifically designed to meet those needs. It's best to put a thick layer of bedding, anywhere from 4" to 8". That way, they'll always have a comfortable and secure spot to sleep in.

Do not overcrowd cows

If you ask a farmer how to keep cows comfortable, they'll have a long list of things to check. One of the top items on that list? Stocking density. It means you should always keep an eye on how many cows are inside!
But how many cows are too many?
In barns with four rows, if you try to fit in more than 120% of the recommended number of cows, problems start to pop up. As a result, cows will spend less time resting comfortably in their stalls.
When they don't rest, they don't chew their food properly (that's called "rumination"). They may also become more aggressive when it's time to eat, causing more frequent leg injuries.
Overcrowding areas where cows are lactating can lead to other problems too. When these areas get too crowded, there won't be enough space for dry cows and the maternity zones. According to McFarland, this can result in cows facing more issues when they're about to give birth. As a consequence, their milk production will suffer.
Hence, the well-being of the cows is just as important as the amount of milk they produce. Milk production should not be the sole indicator of success. The comfort and health of the cows matter too. So, for happy and healthy cows, ensure they have enough space to rest and move around in their barns.

Establish appropriate food patterns and eating space

Here's a fun fact: how we set up the space is super important, especially for their eating patterns. Three things matter most: the design of where they eat, how much space they have to eat, and how clean that space is. These factors can help cows eat the right amount of dry food.
Just how important is proper eating for cows?
Cows typically eat 10 to 12 times a day. They spend almost six hours munching on their food. It's super important for cows to always have food available. They won't eat enough if they spend too much time at the milking center or can't reach their food.
In addition, cows get really thirsty after they eat or are milked. Imagine being super thirsty and not having a drink nearby. That's how cows feel. That's why they should have access to water within an hour of these activities.
What you should do is set up many water stations. These stations should be big enough so that about 10% to 15% of the cows can drink at once. It's also a good idea to place these stations between where cows eat and where they rest. That way, they can easily get a drink as they move from one spot to another.
But how do you know if your cows are comfortable? It's not always easy to tell. McFarland says farmers should look for signs that something's wrong, like when cows aren't producing as much. These problems might be linked to the comfort of the cows. So, the key is keeping an eye on their productivity.

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