• LED lights operate off of direct current with no pulse, which often is the cause of headaches and eyestrain from fluorescent lighting. While research needs to confirm it, this could be an animal welfare enhancement.
• Because they do not emit ultraviolet rays, LED lights are not attractive to flies and many other bugs.
The major drawback of LED lighting is the up-front cost, which can be two to three times that of alternative lighting options. However, Janni points out that many producers have secured energy rebates from their utility companies as an incentive for installing the more energy-efficient LED option. That was the case for the Petersens, who also were able to garner additional funding through a USDA EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) grant.
Janni advises researching all of these options and doing one’s homework on LED suppliers as well. “Unfortunately, there are some sub-standard LED products on the market, so it is important to work with a trusted and knowledgeable supplier who will back the products with a warranty of at least five years,” he suggests.
Currently, Petersen estimates that on energy savings alone, his enterprise will recapture the $7,000 investment in LED lighting in approximately 5.6 years. By factoring in utility rebates and the EQIP cost share, that breakeven drops to 3.8 years. Increased milk production would further accelerate the pay-off. “Our primary goal was energy conservation,” he says, “but if we can realize additional benefits along with it, then it makes the change even more advantageous. It’s an improvement about which I am becoming more enthused all the time.”
Sidebar: More milk, too?
Another exciting aspect of installing LED lighting on dairies is the possibility that it could boost milk production. An Oklahoma State University study published last year split a freestall barn in half and divided a group of 500 Holsteins into two groups — one housed in free-stalls under metal halide lights, the other under LED lights. The surprising results: the LED group produced 6 pounds more milk per day.
The researchers who conducted the study aren’t sure whether the increase was due to cows eating more in the brighter conditions, a hormonal effect, or something else. They also are quick to point out that the trial was limited in scope and needs to be replicated on a larger scale to confirm the results. Still, the potential is promising.
Iowa dairy producer David Petersen, who has installed LED lighting, says he is hesitant to weigh in on milk production differences in his herd until the cows have lived in the LED-illuminated environment for a full year, but is intrigued by the possibility of more milk.