Cow comfort always an important variable

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder is about Chris Hill, nutritionist for Poulin Grain in Vermont.

An emphasis on cow comfort has helped nutritionist Chris Hill do his work with clients.

It was obvious at one Vermont farm that the facilities weren’t quite up to snuff. In the fresh-cow pen, half of the stalls had mattresses and the other half had a few inches of sawdust poured over recessed concrete. You could definitely see a preference; when the cows came back from the milking parlor, the mattress stalls would fill up first.

Then, when the farm put mattresses in the other half, the situation was completely reversed: Cows preferred the stalls with the newer mattresses over the older mattresses, and the newer section would fill up first.

After the farm owners saw that, they put new mattresses in the high-group pen, consisting of 108 stalls. That pen hadn’t had any mattresses previous to that, just recessed concrete with 3 to 4 inches of sawdust.

The farm, with Hill’s encouragement, also made the stalls in some of the other pens bigger by moving the neck rail back further from the curb. They also replaced the loops.

After the improvements were made, Hill says the cows seemed to be lying down more, but he doesn’t have hard data. And, some other changes were made along the way, such as increasing the forage percentage in the diet, so it might also be difficult to make any assessment based on milk production.

But the farm has gone from a high number of involuntary culls to a situation where it is now selling cows to other farms because it is not expanding and has more cows than the facilities can handle.
Here is the cull data for the farm since 2006: (The stall improvements were made in 2008).

  • 2006 — culled 225 cows, 40 of them for feet and legs.
  • 2007 — culled 195 cows, 49 for feet and legs.
  • 2008 — culled 267 cows, 64 for feet and legs.
  • 2009 — culled 215 cows, 45 for feet and legs.
  • 2010 — culled 218 cows, 27 for feet and legs.
  • 2011 so far, culled 227 cows, 24 for feet and legs.

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