Editor's note: Corwin Holtz, dairy nutritionist from Dryden, N.Y., handled the following case study.

Two dairies in western New York had obvious cow-comfort issues. One, a 500-cow herd, had some broken free-stalls, which made fewer places available for the cows to lie. The other, a 240-cow herd, had stall-design problems which made it difficult for the cows to lunge forward or sideways.

Herd nutritionist Corwin Holtz was aware of the problems and tried to get them fixed.

"As a nutritionist, I have three basic tenets that I operate under with my clients," he says. Those tenets include:

  • Putting up quality forage year in and year out.
  • Getting cows pregnant in a timely manner and keeping days in milk at a reasonable level (170 to 190 DIM).
  • Maximizing cow comfort, leading to maximum resting time.

"These are three things I will always be having discussions with my clients about," he says. "I will hound them if I don't feel things are where they need to be in these three areas."

In the 500-cow herd, broken free-stalls needed to be fixed. It didn't help that the cows were crowded to begin with, and the broken free-stalls just made matters worse. It was a growing problem, and Holtz and the herd veterinarian kept encouraging them to redo the stalls. The farm ended up adding 14 useable stalls in the high group during the repair process. Changes were made, as well, in stall design in the high and low groups. The style of loops was OK, but the way they were mounted to the channel iron in front tended to impair a cow's forward lunge. The channel iron was dropped lower to open up more frontal space.

As a result of the changes, more cows were lying down a greater proportion of the time. That may have been one of the reasons why the herd's milk production rose about 7 pounds per cow over the course of the winter. "We're pretty steadily over 80 pounds a cow now," Holtz says.

The 240-cow herd, meanwhile, had some free-stall issues of its own. The loops were too narrow for one thing and, with the way the iron channel was configured in the front, it made it difficult for cows to lunge forward or sideways. The bedding consisted of old torn-up mattresses, which wasn't good, either. So, the farm replaced all of the loops with a new single-beam design and wider loops, took out the old mattresses, jack-hammered the concrete base, put in a gravel base, and then added bedding using a mixture of finely chopped straw, lime and water.

That herd's milk production went from 74 to 78 pounds per cow per day, on average, to 84 to 88 pounds per day after the changes were made.

Both herds achieved increased production without any ration changes. Forage was of high quality to begin with in both herds. In the 240-cow herd, for instance, the same 2007 corn silage was fed throughout, with analyses for digestibility and starch content staying the same. Similarly, 2007 haylage was fed throughout.

The difference, Holtz points out, was in cow comfort. Cows just weren't comfortable prior to the facility changes, and it limited production.

Holtz places a premium on lying time, or how many hours the cows lie down in a 24-hour period. Before, cows were lying down as little as eight to 10 hours a day. Now, they are exceeding 12 hours of lying time per day, which is good. For many cows, 12 to 14 hours per day is the appropriate target for resting time, points out Rick Grant, president of the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, N.Y.

Here's where a nutritionist's influence extended beyond the ration itself to a more holistic approach.