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3 tips for improving cow comfort without adding cost

Amy Throndsen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 January 2019
Not every improvement comes with a hefty price tag. Diligent stall cleaning, routine stall maintenance and revisiting the basics of cow comfort can pay off quickly.

It is a year-round activity to think about ways to maintain comfort for your cows. While there’s often opportunity for investing in improvements for your barn, there are things you can do now that might take a little time but won’t require a big out-of-pocket expense.

1. Keep your stalls clean and dry every day

You already have the expense of people, equipment and bedding – just make sure cows are getting what they need. Make sure stalls are kept bedded and cleaned. Cows want a comfortable lying surface. 

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The better you do, the better your cows will do. If stalls are deep-bedded, keep them full and regularly raked. If using mattresses or waterbeds, ensure there’s enough bedding to keep the surface dry.

The cleanliness of the bedding material is another area to focus on. With mattresses or waterbeds, the cleanliness of the stall surface is easy to see. Any waste matter in the stall is visible on the surface of the bed.

In deep-bedded stalls, that same waste may settle down into the bedding, creating a bacteria-rich environment that puts cows at risk of infection. Perhaps include digging out this bedding during spring cleaning, but focus every day on keeping stalls clean to ensure your cows are not only comfortable but healthier, too.

Is it time to revisit your stall bedding and maintenance procedure? Is it time to retrain? Or is it just time to refocus?

2. Check the condition and setup of your stalls

Whether cows moved them, skid steers hit them, or they’ve rusted away, the stall dividers might be crowding your cows.

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You’ve seen this before. Some stalls get narrowed. Loops are missing or lying in among the stalls. Maybe the neck rail or brisket locator is mispositioned. A little housekeeping and repair can help get your stall numbers back to what they should be.

Cows have changed. Barn design has improved. And along the way, as attention to cow comfort has increased, recommended stall sizes have changed, too. It can be difficult to change the size of existing stalls. If the loops are post-mounted, then there’s no changing the width without a reinvestment.

If that’s the case, focus on adjusting the neck rail or brisket locator to give cows more space in the stall. If the stall system allows for width adjustment, consider making those changes based on the size needs of your cows. This, too, may be a difficult decision if the result is ending up with fewer stalls. But as you manage your cow-to-stall ratio, remember: Proper stall sizing is an important component of cow comfort.

Fixing the loops and moving the neck rail isn’t easy work, but it’s necessary. If your cows can’t fit easily and comfortably in the stalls, their lying time is affected. Making steady progress on these repairs will have a lasting improvement.

3. Use your resources

Certainly, you’ve set expectations for what needs to be done around the dairy. Maybe it’s time for a little retraining and refocus. How’s air flow in the barn? Were the fans cleaned like they needed to be? How do those waterers look? Are they being maintained so your cows get the fresh water they need? What are the condition of the curtains, misters, footbaths and gates? You paid for good systems. Is your team keeping them working?

You also have plenty of experts and suppliers ready to sell you things. Take this time to get some “free-of-charge” help. Ask them to help you see some things you might be overlooking. And keep them focused on helping you make changes and adjustments that don’t require new capital.

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Your veterinarian will have ideas. Your nutritionist surely has an opinion. And dairy equipment suppliers, near and far, should be able to help you make better use of what you already have.

Sure, that’s going to take time and probably some small expense, but once you have a list of ideas, you can prioritize them to get the greatest impact where you need it most.

As with good breeding and managed nutrition, cow comfort is an important piece of your dairy puzzle. Done right, you get a healthy and productive herd.

And while there may be plenty of areas to invest in improvements, the day-to-day focus on better maintaining what you have should give the results to get you through today so you can plan for tomorrow.  end mark

PHOTO: Not every improvement comes with a hefty price tag. Diligent stall cleaning, routine stall maintenance and revisiting the basics of cow comfort can pay off quickly. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

Amy Throndsen
  • Amy Throndsen

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Advanced Comfort Technology
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