Dairy Herd: Give Her A Rest

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We are constantly being cautioned that getting enough rest is key to remaining healthy. The same holds true for cows. Lactating dairy cattle require 12–14 hours of lying time per day for optimal health and productivity. As lying time decreases, production is likely to decline, the lame-ness rate increases, and overall susceptibility to dis-ease increases.

As discussed in a previous pipeline article, cows should be primarily engaged in one of four activities: eating, milking, drinking, or lying down. Most cows will consis-tently spend 4.5 hours daily eating and another 0.5 hours drinking. Unfortunately, many dairy cattle also spend a sig-nificant amount of time standing. Some standing time is normal, though ideally time spent standing should be limited to 3 to 4 hours per day. However, many cows spend in excess of 6 hours per day stand-ing in alleys or stalls, not including time in the holding pen. Add in 2 to 3 hours per day for milking and very quickly cows rest-ing times decrease below 12 hours per day.

So why are cows standing so much? Often cow comfort is compromised. Either stall dimensions discourage lying or the stall surface is uncomfortable. Stalls that are too short, barriers that prevent lung-ing, or narrow stalls make lying and rising difficult. As a result, cows spend more time standing or perching in the stalls. Opening stall fronts as much as possible can alleviate many of these problems. A simple cable in front can prevent cows go-ing through the stalls, while still giving enough lunge room. Hard surfaces make cows reluctant to lay. A good rule of thumb is if you drop to your knees in the stall and it’s painful, your stall surface is too hard. Maintaining deeper bedding (4” sawdust, 8” sand) will increase lying times.

Overcrowding and heat stress also increase standing times. Avoid over-stocking more than 20% and install the best heat abatement system for your facility. Decreasing time away from stalls is also important. Cows should spend no more than 3 hours per day away from the hous-ing area (includes milking and time in lock-ups). Split the herd into smaller groups for milking to decrease time in the holding area. Scraping the lot and bedding stalls dur-ing milking will also minimize amount of time cows are dis-turbed. If using headlocks, cows should be held for no more than one hour.

I encourage you to take a look at how long your cows really have to rest each day. If it’s less than 12 hours, take steps to free up more resting time.

Source: Beverly Cox, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent, Franklin County, Agriculture and Natural Resources/Dairy 483-5161



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