Cow comfort. We know how important it is to animal health and dairy profitability. After all, a comfortable cow is a productive cow.
But when it’s planting season, the skid loader breaks down or any one of a million day-to-day priorities come up, it’s easy to put cow comfort efforts on the back burner.
Sticking to the basics, listening to your cows and focusing on efficiency will help you consistently stay on top of cow comfort.
Here are a few tips to help you get back to cow comfort basics.
Make tasks easy
Cleaning out stalls, pushing up feed, teat dipping, running the footbath – the easier something is to accomplish, the more often and more accurately it gets done. It’s that simple.
Review your management protocols and identify pain points. What’s getting in the way and making tasks more difficult? Walk through the cow flow, from freestalls to holding areas to the parlor and back again. Is it easy to maneuver, both for the animals and the employees?
Consider investing in tools that make tasks easier for employees, such as attachments for skid loaders and tractors, dump waterers, bedding spreaders, grooming tools, etc. These changes can make a big difference without breaking the bank.
Maintain a routine
Cow comfort is all about routine – not just for the cows but also for employees. When employees get off of a routine, they may skip a task or rush through jobs, which impacts cow comfort and, ultimately, milk production.
Ensure employees are clear on expectations when it comes to cow comfort in all areas of the dairy. Explaining the “why” during employee training can help emphasize the importance of each task and the employees’ role in the overall profitability of the farm.
The cleaner you keep things, the quicker and easier it is to keep them clean. It’s like doing the dishes – if you don’t do them right away, dirty dishes pile up in the sink. When you finally tackle “dish mountain,” it’s a much bigger task to accomplish than if you had washed them right away.
Listen to your cows
If milk production or animal health is lagging, your cows are trying to tell you something. With today’s technology, you have an abundance of data at your fingertips to help you identify challenges that could be impacted by cow comfort measures. Activity monitors and other tools can help guide you in the right direction.
However, you still need to use your senses and visually evaluate your cows. Get out in the barn and see what your cows are telling you via their feet and legs, body motions, eating and lying times, etc.
Combining data and visual evaluation can help you make the best decisions on cow comfort improvements.
Don’t wait until something breaks
Cow comfort on the farm is no different than comfort in your own home. When your couch or mattress is uncomfortable, you likely replace it, even if it’s still functional. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I wish I had done this earlier” after a farm made an upgrade that positively impacted cow comfort.
Consider the age of equipment and facilities. Newer technologies have made many improvements that can boost cow comfort. For example, today’s parlor stalls can be customized for your herd size, and they index each cow for optimal positioning and quick and easy access to the udder. This makes the time cows spend in the parlor two or three times a day calmer and more relaxing.
When things start to wear, cow comfort should be the priority. Keeping facilities up-to-date is extremely important, so you don’t lose out on production or reproduction efficiency.
Rely on your team
Cow comfort is a team effort. If you’re having an issue, bring in your trusted consultant team. Veterinarians, nutritionists and milking equipment dealers have a vested interest in supporting cow comfort on your farm because it makes their jobs easier and helps them achieve your goals. Your team of advisers is usually more than willing to perform on-farm training and review key performance indicators and expectations with your staff.
Even when things are going smoothly, a second set of eyes can help identify opportunities for improvement you might not recognize. We can all get entrenched in our routines or walk past that dirty waterer so often it becomes invisible. A consultant or one of your trusted advisers can bring a new perspective, share successes from other farms they’ve worked with and generate new ideas.
The small things can make a big difference to cow comfort. By getting back to the basics, you can ensure optimal cow comfort on your operation to support production and profitability.