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Cooling efficiency: The key to summer profitability

Suzanne Meck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 April 2018
Cows in the holding pen

Decisions on the dairy should be based on increasing efficiency to improve the bottom line. As you weigh the costs and benefits of cooling your cows, the numbers quickly add up: Cooling wins every time.

When people think of the cost of cooling cows, their first thoughts are the cost of turning on fans and getting rid of excess water. The reality is: These costs are minimal compared to the benefits they provide, and there are ways to invest in technology that can help reduce costs even more.

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Make fans more efficient

If you are already using fans, there are a few simple changes that make them an even better tool. One of the most basic improvements is adding thermostats that bring on the fans automatically based on the cows’ needs.

Using thermostats allows fans to turn on in stages. Many power companies charge for peak usage, so turning on fans in stages can help reduce peak usage.

Another way to help reduce the cost of running fans is to attach a variable-frequency drive. The variable-frequency drive will automatically ramp the speed of the fan up and down based on the temperature in the barn.

Another new technology similar to variable-frequency drives is electronically commutated motors. These built-in motors are very efficient and, in some instances, can even qualify for energy rebates and grants.

Very often when investing in technology like improved efficiency, it becomes a pay-now-or-pay-later scenario. Spending a little more up-front usually pays off quickly over time through a combination of saving on variable costs (such as energy) or improved production.

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Save water

Another cost that shows opportunity for saving is water usage. During the summer, cows’ water consumption can increase dramatically. Ensure you have ample water available to every cow and consider adding temporary watering stations to provide extra access.

In addition to providing plenty of water for drinking, it’s important to also use water for cooling. Water is a precious and valuable resource. If water is in short supply on your farm, take some time to research water cooling methods rather than skipping it altogether.

There are many options for water cooling which offer different levels of water usage. Some lower volume systems include misters, foggers and low-pressure cooling.

Low-volume cooling systems still provide the needed benefits of heat abatement; however, they prevent the water waste other systems leave behind.

Another option is to target the holding area for cooling. The holding area is the hottest, most stressful part of a cow’s day. By providing cooling in the holding area, you can reduce the peak stress load, provide some of the cooling benefits and use less water than continually running a high-volume system.

Get more bang for your buck

While the cost of cooling may seem high at first glance, the innumerable benefits quickly outweigh any cost. Simply by turning on the fans, milk production can increase 0.9 to 1.4 kilograms per cow per day. Not only do cows need additional air flow to help maintain milk production, conception rates can be impacted at temperatures as low as 7º to 10ºC.

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As the temperature rises, the benefits of cooling only increase. Adding water cooling as low as 68 temperature-humidity index has been shown to greatly improve cow comfort. Not only do you help prevent drops in summer production, you also help the cow reach full peak production for that lactation.

More than milk

The benefits of cooling your herd extend far beyond just milk production. Conception rates also improve if cows are cooled. The value of increasing conception rates could mean hundreds of dollars per cow each year.

Another benefit of cooling your herd is that cool, comfortable cows are more likely to lie in their stalls. Each additional hour of lying time nets 0.5 to 1 more kilograms of milk. More lying time also equals less time on their feet, resulting in fewer hoof issues like white-line disease. Cows with healthier feet are more likely to get up to eat and comfortably walk to the parlour and back, maintaining higher productivity.

Heat stress also causes other issues within a cow which are less visible and often seen days or weeks after the heat subsides. When a cow is stressed, she must put extra energy and effort into fighting off that stress, and her immune system is often weakened.

This makes a cow less able to fight off an illness and decreases the efficiency of her immune system. This means more vet bills, lost production and possibly even culling more cows.

These added benefits of improved reproduction, lower vet bills and better hoof health quickly add up and far outweigh any cost of implementing cooling.

The forgotten dry cow

Dry cows are often one of the more neglected parts of the herd. Unlike lactating cows, who contribute daily, the benefits of a dry cow are forgotten about until it is ready to calve again.

The reality of the dry cow is: She is the future of your herd, both in what she provides in milk production and in what the calf will contribute.

When it comes to on-farm cooling, dry cows are equally, or even more, important than the lactating herd. Studies show cows cooled during their dry period produce more milk through their entire lactation, averaging about 5 to 8 kilograms more per day.

In addition, reducing the stress load of dry cows often results in few problems at calving, which means less vet costs and more efficiency and productivity.

Aside from the cooling benefits directly to the cow, the calves of cooled dry cows also see a benefit. They are born healthier and get a better start when compared to their counterparts from non-cooled dry cows.

There is also research currently underway to determine the long-term benefit of these calves including better conception at a younger age and also higher milk production throughout their lifetime.

As producers, it’s easy to focus on the here and now, but it’s important to also keep in mind the future of your herd and how the decisions you make today will impact you down the road.

Before you decide to skip on fans and cooling your cows, think again about how these improvements will make your cows more efficient and increase your bottom line.  end mark

PHOTO: Cows spend the hottest, most stressful part of their day in the holding pen. Providing cooling in the holding area reduces the peak stress load. Photo provided by Hershey Ag.

Suzanne Meck is a freelance writer for small companies in the animal health industries.

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