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«Housing Infrastructure for Improved Dairy Cow Performance The housing environment for cows has a dramatic effect on their health and welfare. ...»

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Improving Farm Infrastructure for Liquid Milk Herds

Tom Ryan and John Lawlor, Teagasc

Housing Infrastructure for Improved Dairy Cow Performance

The housing environment for cows has a dramatic effect on their health and welfare.

Designing clean comfortable housing is critical to the health and longevity of the dairy

cows. This is even more important for liquid milk herds because they are generally

housed for longer periods and can be in early/mid lactation while housed.

The aim at housing is to provide stock with conditions similar to what they experience at pasture. At pasture animals have water, feed, air, space, rest and light available to them in abundance. These simple basics are often taken for granted and it is very seldom that all can be found together in animal housing. So, take a critical look at your housing to assess how you score in providing these basics. A little bit of measurement and observation is worthwhile before improvements can be recommended. Small changes here and there are often all that’s required.

Time management for dairy cows Typically during the housing period a cow spends 12 to 14 hours a day resting, ruminating for 6 of these. She spends 5½ hours feeding in 9 to 14 feeds a day. She spends 2 to 3 hours standing or walking in passages and about 30 minutes drinking. A cow spends 2½ hours outside the resting area for milking. All in all, cows are very busy with little time to spare in the housing environment.

We need to observe the natural patterns of dairy cow behavior and take advantage of these when designing and using facilities. Too often, in the past, these behavioral needs have been ignored or we have just assumed that cows would adapt to the surroundings we provided, instead of providing the surroundings they need. Dairy cow housing, especially for liquid milk herds, needs to be well planned so that we don’t interfere with basic needs of the cow, such as, resting, eating and ruminating.

Cow cubicles Observe cows in cubicles to see if occupancy is good and if they are exhibiting natural body movement when getting up and lying down. Provide one cubicle place per cow.

Suggested cubicle dimensions and recommendations:

 Width (centre to centre) 1.15- 1.25 metres  Total length (rows towards wall) 2.6 – 3.2 metres  Total length (rows head to head and single rows with no front wall) 2.3 –

2.7metres  Brisket board/pillow from rear kerb 1.75 metres – observe and fine tune  Neck rail from rear kerb, (measured horizontally) 1.8 metres +, depending on cow size – observe and see  Height of neck rail, 1.2 metres +, depending on cow size – observe and see  Cubicle bed slope 4-5%  Cubicle bed height above the passageway floor 0.18 – 0.2 metres Layouts, lying areas and passage widths 2-row designs are best – gives more animal area and feed space Total animal area within cubicle houses of 7.5 to 8m2 Area along the feeding face 2.3 to 2.6m2 Cubicle passage widths 2.7 to 3.4m Feeding passage widths 3.5 to 5m depending on house design Width of feed passage (tractor passage) 4.8 to 6m Crossover passages: leave out 3 cubicles. Leaving out 3 helps reduce bullying.

Observe cows for bullying. Provide a crossover for every 2 to 3.5 bays.

Have no dead ends if possible. Ensure floors are not slippery.

Feed barriers  Feed space of 0.65 to 0.75 recommended  Straight rail feed barriers should be adjustable and easy to adjust. Check are animal’s knees near stub wall while feeding.

 Tell tail signs that a barrier is too restrictive are: a rush to the barrier when feeding takes place, lack of reach, hair gone off the back of the neck, lumps on the back of neck, pressure on the dewlap, possibly more risk of claw problems  Feed space per cow, i.e. the number of cows that can line up at any one time (7 or max 8 per bay for adult animals). Feeding frequently and barriers allowing good reach will compensate for limited feed space and will avoid bullying at the feed face  Feed barrier problems; short of feed space, infrequent feeding, poor reach, causing ill thrift, poor welfare, bullying, injuries; the weak suffer  Straight rail barriers should be positioned at about 47, 48 or 49 inches above cow standing (to underside of rail). If a cow rests leg on stub wall it’s a bit too high. Keep it a bit lower if feed in troughs – an animal upturned in a trough will likely be a casualty.

Good Ventilation  Ventilation gets rid of moisture, dust, gasses/odours, bacteria and viruses, excess heat and supplies oxygen rich air  Both inlets and outlets are needed for good ventilation. Inlets are usually along under the eaves and outlets are generally in the roof. Good eave height, adequate roof pitch (15 degrees) and adequate height difference between inlets and outlets are all important. Adequate air space is also beneficial. Doors are not air inlets or outlets.

 The wider the building and the denser the stocking rate the bigger the inlet and outlet area required.

 Recognising ventilation problems; dirty roof, evidence of condensation, streaming on purlins from condensation, stale stuffy environment.

Deterioration of roof due to poor ventilation/cladding  Ventilation solutions can be provided in existing under-ventilated or problem sheds. It is recommended to make observations while animals are housed, perhaps get advice, try to figure out what is causing the problem, e.g. is it lack of inlets and or outlets, excessive draughts, etc. Make the minimum of changes to keep the costs down. If further improvements are necessary after reassessment it can be done later. All too often restrictive air outlets are the limiting factor. One solution to rectify this is to raise at least one line of sheets per bay along the plane of the roof and cover the hole with wider cladding sheets or a sheet and a half. This will provide an effective outlet. Because the sheets overhang the hole the sheets can be raised 150mm or more above the roof without fear of rain entry Water  Check to see that they have water; check flow rate and for leaks. Prepare for freezing weather conditions. Clean dirty troughs; use easy to clean troughs.

Protect pipes from damage by animals.

Light  Provide natural and artificial light. 5 and 3 watts per sq. meter for T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps, respectively; night light desirable; good lighting important for husbandry and feeding; clean lamps as required  Locate lamps so they are easy to clean and safe to access; spaced sheeting on its own will not provide adequate light. See S102 -Dept spec. on clearlites.

Maintenance  Well maintained housing is essential. It has a bearing on animal performance and animal welfare. Good maintenance is also important for those looking after stock; improving labour efficiency and safety. Maintenance should be carried out before stock are housed  Maintenance checks: barriers, pen divisions, water troughs, slats, mats, hinges, latches, clean vents, lamps, gutters, diversion traps and channels, doors, scrapers, cubicles, neck rails, etc.

Grazing infrastructure for increased Milk from Forage Division of grazing land into paddocks is essential to successfully manage pastures and achieve desirable rotation intervals. Paddocks must be connected with an efficient farm roadway system to allow easy access to and from the parlour and from one paddock to any other on the farm. An accurate map of the paddock layout is essential.

Typically, the area of land taken up by the farm roadway is in the range 1-2% of the grazing area it serves (assumes there are paddocks on both sides). The degree to which land is poached in wet weather has a bearing on the level of intensity of the farm roadway system. The distance from the roadway to the back of a paddock is a good indicator of how easy it is to manage in difficult grazing conditions; for example, going from heavy land, to fairly good, to good dry land the distance would usually be in the range of 60-130m, 130m-170m and 170-250m, respectively.

Rectangular shaped paddocks work best, ideally 2 to 1, but not over 4 to 1, length-towidth ratio. There is less walking to water troughs. Square paddocks allow for more flexible sub-divisions and grazing in blocks to reduce poaching, while long narrow paddock suffer a lot of damage in wet weather and near gaps. Wetter paddocks ideally should have longest sides running adjacent to the roadway to avoid poaching in wet weather. On sloping ground stock should move downhill to exit paddocks. Paddock entrances should be on dry ground. Use multiple gateways from the roadway for paddocks on wet ground or for paddocks to be grazed by small groups of cows near the parlour.

Use one wire electric fences between paddocks with interconnecting gateways between adjacent paddocks. Divide electric fences into sections with easy to access cut off switches.

Use the maps to consider several different ways of laying out the farm and consider the positives and negatives of each one. Choose the best option. Mark the layout on the ground with marker pegs. Consider the layout from the perspective of the cow and from the practicality of construction and subsequent operation. Record the final layout on an accurate map and make lots of copies. Number the paddocks with a tag on the gate and on a map of the farm.

Features of 1-day and 2-day paddocks 1-day Paddocks (21 paddocks)

- 20-23 paddocks in April / June period. For big herds have a few small paddocks near the parlour for sick cows, etc

- Exact size will depend on farm stocking rate during this period. Approx size

0.96ha (2.4 acres) for 100 cow herd at farm stocking rate of 2.5 cows/ha.

- inflexible for grazing when growth varies e.g. too little grass for 24 hours in poor growing conditions, too much in good growing conditions

- inflexible for cutting surpluses, small and very often irregular in shape

- Generally easier to see grass shortage/surplus developing as cows must enter a new paddock each day 1½-day Paddocks (14 paddocks)

- 14 paddocks in April/June period

- Approx size 1.44ha (3.6 acres) for 100 cow herd at farm stocking rate of 2.5 cows/ha.

Farm roadways The aim is to have cows walking comfortably at 3 km/hr with their heads down so that they can see where they are placing their front feet (the back feet will step into the same place). Actual cow walking speed depends on walking surface, cow training and fitness.

Construction aims

• To have a raised, wide, smooth, dry, gently crowned or sloping to one side surface with gradual sweeping bends. Up to 150 cows 4m wide, over 200 cows 5.5m wide.

• Widest towards and at the entrance to the milking parlour.

• Construction and maintenance must reflect the use it’s put to

• Build on the sunny side of ditches or shelter belts.

• Plan routes on a map but wait till it is marked out on the ground to make the final decision The roadway near the milking parlour needs to be well constructed and maintained as it suffers more wear and tear. About 150mm of topsoil can be removed to get a more solid base and stop material spreading. Don’t dig out too deep. Digging too deep will cause cost overrun. Consider geotextile for soft areas. Laying the base material on top of the ground also works well and reduces the cost of construction. It will not stand up to as much heavy traffic but works fine where the soil can withstand deformation, especially in the less trafficked areas.

Construct farm roadways when soil is dry. Lay base material and shape to form a crossfall (1 in 20 to 1 in 30) to one or both sides. Compact with a large vibrating roller e.g. 19 tonne and leave it time to settle. If the base material will not form a smooth walking surface after the vibrating roller, then it needs to be covered with a layer of dusty material (4-5cm thick). Use dusts of sandstone, shale, greywacke, etc., but not limestone because the fines will dissolve in rainwater. The dusty material forms a smooth durable surface and keeps sharp bigger stones or pebbles buried beneath the surface.

Corners must have a wide sweeping curve; if not they will dramatically slow stock movement. Cows should flow round the bends in the same formation as walking down the straight. Wide sweeping junctions allow the cows to continue moving without baulking or overcrowding.

Have the roadway surface and the concrete of the collecting yard at the same level. A low concrete kerb (150mm) at the junction of the roadway and the yard will mean less stones are kicked or carried from the roadway onto the yard. This will reduce the risk of lameness due to stone injuries.

The cost per metre can vary greatly, from €15 to €30 per metre, depending on the cost of materials, depth, width and the method of construction.

Water supply to paddocks Divide the farm into sections, with a shut-off valve at each major junction. Pipes can be located along obvious features e.g. roadways and fence lines or pipes can cut across paddocks to suit. Mark pipe location, pipe sizes, joiners and shut-off valves on a farm map. Consider installing a water flow meter near the supply pump to monitor water usage and detect leaks. A ring main (loop system) is a cost effective way to enhance water flow rates and pressure to troughs. Use gravity if possible to reduce pumping costs and improve pressure.

Deliver sufficient water to meet the stock needs during greatest demand. Size of the main water pipe depends on number of cows, general layout of the farm and gradients. Main pipe sizes would typically be 25mm, 32mm or 40mm and branch pipe sizes would be either 20mm or 25mm. Water available to cows is a combination of trough volume and water flow rate, e.g. a trough volume of 1400 litres (about 300 gals) will provide 14 litres per cow for 100 cows and a flow rate of 0.2 litres per cow per minute will provide 12 litres per cow per hour. Use full flow ballcocks in all new troughs. Position troughs to minimise walking distance to water and avoid unnecessary smearing of grass. Don’t locate troughs near gaps or in hollows. Install troughs level. Cows on route to and from the milking parlour should not have access to water. Allowing cows to stop for water will slow down cow movement and cause dirty patches on roadways.

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