Cow comfort economics

We know that the on-farm management environment explains over half of the variation among farms in milk production. Increasingly, producers are realizing that modest investments in housing, or changes in their cow management routines, can pay large dividends in greater cow health and performance.

Here are some of the most economically important relationships: Stalls per cow, feeding for refusals and feed push ups are all positively related to herd milk production.

Minimizing time outside the pen is the key to optimal time budgeting. Meeting time budget requirement for resting results in greater milk yield (2kg to 3.5kg per day more) and lower incidence of lameness Expect 1 to 1.5 kg per cow per day more milk whenever cow comfort is improved that results in one more hour of resting time. When cows are chronically deprived of adequate resting opportunity, they will also sacrifice eating time and the potential for feed consumption in a 3.5:1 ratio. Commingling first-calf heifers with older cows leads to loss of resting activity, rumination and milk yield.

Plan on an approximate 10 percent loss in milk for the heifers. When stocking rate is increased, the negative effect is even more pronounced even at low levels of overcrowding (such as 110 to 115 percent of stalls and headlocks). Improving the comfort of a stall, according to numerous case studies, should improve milk yield (1.5kg to 6kg per cow per day), lower turnover rates (-6 to -13 percent), lower somatic cell count (-37,000 to -102,000) and reduce lameness (-15 to -20 percent).

Optimizing the feeding environment will promote aggressive feeding behaviour and greater dry matter intake which translates into more milk production (for Holsteins, 1kg of dry matter intake translates into 2kg of milk). Lameness results in a loss of nearly 900kg per cow per year of milk annually, greater culling rate and reduced fertility. As bunk space decreases from 24 to 12 inches per cow, percentage of cows pregnant by 150 days in milk decreases from 70 to 35 percent

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