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Implementing new cow cooling strategies and considerations for bedding material

Joseph DeLong for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 September 2020
Freestalls with deep beds of sand

As producers are looking to make improvements on their operations, cow cooling strategies have quickly become the main topic of discussion on most of my farm visits these days.

An increasing amount of research is being done on heat stress, and that’s given producers an idea of the long- and short-term costs.

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For example, the research paper “Late-Gestation Heat Stress Impairs Daughter and Granddaughter Lifetime Performance” details the negative effects heat stress can have on dairies long term and associates a negative cost to the dairy producer. It is becoming clearer to producers of all sizes that they need to address heat stress issues on their farm if they want to improve their bottom line.

As producers look to make these improvements, they often see the big picture but miss some of the details that need to be addressed prior to making any drastic cow cooling improvements. One of those specific areas is bedding. Producers know the importance of proper bedding and have made strides in this area of the dairy industry over the years, but as we look to add new systems into the animal housing area, it’s important to recognize that it isn’t so much about the bedding type as how you manage the system to protect the bedding itself.

Let us discuss various cow cooling strategies and look at the areas that need to be considered prior to implementation.

Cow cooling strategy option No. 1: Ventilation

Plain and simple, installing new fans or additional fans over the bedding area is vital. We can discuss all bedding types but, to keep it simple, the major area of concern is bedding material displacement. Depending on your situation, be conscious about the installation and downward tilt of the fans being installed. The goal is to cool the cow as she is lying in the stall with little to no disruption to that environment.

Fan placement depends on a multitude of variables: fan size, barn layout, post spacing, stall configuration, etc. Always remember to keep an 8-foot clearance from the ground to the bottom of the fan and tilt the fan approximately 15 degrees downward. An aggressive downward tilt will result in bedding displacement and poor inconsistent air speeds in the stall area.

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Additionally, installing fans with minimal tilt will not provide the proper air speeds in the cow area and result in subpar results. A simple installation technique is to aim the fan so it targets the stall below the next fan. If you need recommendations, do not be afraid to ask your ventilation specialist. The only dumb question is the question you do not ask because, in the long run, improper installation will minimize your return on this cow cooling strategy.

Cow cooling strategy option No. 2: Feed lane soaking

This option, in my opinion, is the most economical cow cooling strategy available. If you have not discussed this option with a ventilation specialist, now is the time to reconsider. When investigating this strategy, there is one key item we need to keep in mind: over-soaking. It is imperative the system is designed, installed and fine-tuned correctly to soak the cows only to the point that the water penetrates the hair coat and soaks her skin.

Depending on water pressure, volumes, nozzle spacing and nozzle capacity (GPM), we can fine-tune the system to eliminate over-soaking of the cows. Over-soaking at the feed bunk can lead to excess water in the alley, which in turn can be transferred to the freestall bedding. As well, excess water on the cow can be transferred into the freestall via the cow. These over-soaking challenges can be especially problematic in barns bedded with dried manure solids. If you are working with this bedding material, pay special attention to the fine-tuning of the system.

A good rule of thumb is to start the system and time how many seconds it takes for the system to soak the cow to the point that the first droplet of water accumulates on her flank. Depending on the amount of time it takes to soak the cow completely, make the adjustment in your controller. These are just simple and basic approaches I like to consider with feed lane soaking.

Cow cooling strategy option No. 3: High-pressure fogging system

When managing a high-pressure fogging system, attention to detail is a must. A poorly designed and installed system will do more damage to your herd than it will good. Make sure to research this cow cooling strategy thoroughly before proceeding with an installation.

The major concern with high-pressure fogging is excess moisture in the freestall area. If the system is not designed properly and controlled correctly, the excess moisture will lead to severe environmental mastitis issues and create more headaches for the producer.

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Producers who are using deep-bedded sand in the freestall area have more forgiveness to excess moisture in the barn environment. This is due to sand typically being greater than 95% dry matter (DM), while producers using dried manure solids do not have that luxury. Dried manure solids typically have around 30% to 40% DM and are around 90% organic material. For those reasons alone, bedding material helps to determine if high-pressure fogging is right for your operation.

Mattress systems follow the same issues as I mentioned earlier, with one additional significant challenge: traction. Excess moisture in the bedding area of a mattress barn tends to lead to an increase in the slipperiness of the stall bed surface. This is a point of consideration when looking at your bedding choices and cow cooling strategies.

When looking at implementing cow cooling strategies, it’s important you take your time and consider the impacts they will have on your bedding material. While adding additional fans will improve air speed, if it is not installed per the recommendations, it will result in bedding material displacement and poor performance. Adding water, either feed lane soaking or high-pressure fogging, has many benefits, but it can also have many negative side effects if not managed correctly. These systems all bring more benefits to a dairy operation; it all comes down to how you manage them.  end mark

PHOTO: Freestalls with deep beds of sand tend to be the most forgiving of additional moisture in the barn environment that may come from high-pressure fogging. Photo courtesy of Artex Barn Solutions.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Joseph DeLong is a territory manager with Artex Barn Solutions

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