Dairy farmer Kip Law of Sherburne, New York, has experienced some impressive changes after transitioning from an old tiestall facility into a new freestall barn. While this meant adjusting his management practices, the positive effects on herd health and productivity were almost immediate.
Out with the old
The old 70-cow tiestall barn with a pipeline required that Law move cows in and out to be milked, as there were more cows than stalls, adding time and labor.
“It was taking us about six hours to milk,” he said.
His herd had outgrown the facility in more ways than one. Not only were there not enough stalls, the stalls were “too small for Holsteins,” Law said.
Because of this, repetitive stress injuries were a significant factor, as the cows could not safely or easily lie down, or get in and out of the stalls.
The watering system in the old barn made it difficult for all cows to have regular access to fresh water. The ventilation was poor, and the air quality suffered. Trying to retrofit this inadequate facility into a functioning freestall barn would have required extensive changes. Law opted to build new.
The new double-eight parlor and freestall facility have larger stalls, and the cows fit properly. They have lunge space when getting up and spend significantly more time lying down. The stalls are deep-sand bedded. The curbs are rounded.
The herd’s “feet and legs are better,” now that they are provided with adequate and comfortable stall space, Law said.
It took three weeks for Law to gain about 8 pounds of milk per cow each day. Not only did he see an immediate gain in daily milk output per cow after moving into the new barn, he also saw an increase in milk efficiency.
Now, Law is milking one-third more cows in half the time. The milking herd has grown from 80 to his current 130 head.
The cows, on average, are producing 27 percent more milk in the new freestall facility. Average daily output increased from 55 to 70 pounds. Overall milk production has doubled since the move, and Law will soon be adding another bulk tank to capture the increase in production.
His somatic cell count also decreased and is at 100,000 now. Cows are cleaner, have increased their intake, are in better health and are noticeably less stressed. The decrease in herd health concerns in a cleaner, more comfortable and properly ventilated facility has been significant.
“The overall herd health is a lot better. Our cows are a lot calmer than they used to be,” Law said. “In two years, it’s a completely different herd.”
While moving from a tiestall to a freestall environment requires some changes in cow management, the adjustment has paid off, not only for the cows, but for the farmer too. Making the change and investing in a new facility has increased milk production, enhanced milk quality, improved herd health and reduced labor. The new freestall barn has positively impacted this farm’s bottom line. PD
Tamara Scully, a freelance writer based in northwestern New Jersey, specializes in agricultural and food system topics.
PHOTO: Transitioning from tiestalls to a freestall barn has transformed Kip Law's herd over the past two years. He notices cows are calmer and herd health has improved. Photo provided by Rich Tabor, grazing, forestry, ag economic development specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County.