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Cow Comfort is Key to Maximizing Milk Production

August 4, 2020

by Katie Raver, Dairy Technical Services Manager

Working in the dairy industry, we spend a great deal of time using on-farm tools that help increase productivity and drive profitability. Many of these tools are nutritionally related; however, much of it is the management of not only feed but cow comfort. According to Dr. Gordie Jones, cow comfort is one of the biggest factors influencing herd productivity (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1.

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A large part of cow comfort entails ensuring cows are able to achieve the proper amount of time eating, lying, drinking, etc. The amount of time a cow dedicates to each of these activities is commonly known as the time budget of a cow. Maximizing the time budget of the cow is critical to achieving peak production as outlined in Research by Matzke et al. In this study researches compared the duration of time spent in each activity for cows in the top 10% of milk production versus average production. The results are outlined in figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Activity differences between top 10% of herd vs average cows. Adapted from Matzke 2003.

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This data shows that cows in the top 10% of milk production spent significantly more time resting than average cows (~2.3 hours). In addition, cows in the top 10% of the herd spent less time standing in alleys or perching in stalls. Grant (2009) also predicted that each additional hour of time spent lying resulted in 2 to 3.5 lbs more milk per day.

Many factors have the potential to positively or negatively impact the ability of the cow to rest the proper amount of hours in a day. The research above shows that the amount of time spent eating and drinking is fairly similar between average and high production cows. These two together make up about 6 hours a day. When looking at all activities and adding in 2.5 to 3 hours for milking, it is easy to see how management practices have the potential to influence lying time. Making sure cows do not spend excessive amounts of time away from the pens for milking is critical to maintaining this time budget. In addition, proper stocking density (stalls/cow) ensures all cows have ability to lie when they choose to. Making sure stalls are sized correctly for cow size, and also bedded properly will help encourage lying behavior. Sand is often accepted as the most desirable bedding.  In addition, the inorganic material helps to decrease potential pathogen load in bedding. However, many other options such as mattresses do provide adequate cow comfort.

Although lying time is important 24/7 365 days per year, it becomes particularly critical when summer heat comes into play as heat stressed cows are more likely to stand to help dissipate heat. Many researchers have demonstrated that in acute heat stress lying times are likely to be reduced approximately 2-4 hours to 7.9-9.1 h/d. Norlund et al. found that duration of lying bouts for cows housed in a freestall dairy experiencing moderate heat stress decreased from 49 minutes per day to 33 minutes per day, while number of bouts showed no significant change. They further found that cows are likely to end lying bouts when core body temperature is between 39° and 39.6° C, or when body temperature increases 0.4° to 0.48° C.  When assessing the rate of heat dissipation during standing, researchers found a decrease of 0.25° C/h, and up to 0.59° to 0.75°/h when fans and sprinklers were used for heat abatement. Trevsoldi et al found cows housed in dry lot dairies under moderate heat stress utilized corral shades but also feed bunk shades mostly for lying or resting behavior. Making sure there is adequate square footage of shade space for per number of cows will also allow for more cows to partake in lying behavior at the same time.

To demonstrate the economic impacts of lying time and the interaction with heat stress I inputted several different scenarios of THI and lying times into the NDS ration balancing program and graphed these variables against ME allowable milk.

 

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In a dry lot scenario ME Allowable milk decreased an average 0.8 lbs from 13 hours of lying time to 9 hours for all temperatures and the largest change was 1.11lbs at 64 THI. In a free stall scenario average ME allowable milk production decreased an average of 0.81 lbs for all temperatures. The largest drop was 0.85 lbs seen at a THI of 81. Although these numbers aren’t quite as large as those predicted by Grant, increased lying time still has a large impact on farm economics. On a 1000 hd dairy with todays milk prices, that would equate to an average of $125/day for free stall dairies and $138/day for dry lot dairies. Modern technologies allow for better monitoring of cow behavior which can help farms better understand their cow time budgets and assess potential room for improvements. Ultimately cow comfort results in superior performance which leads to economic benefit.

While heat stress and management factors impact the amount of time spent lying, and subsequent milk production, it’s important to remember the benefits that QLF offers for keeping cows comfortable from the “inside-out”:

  • More Rumen Microbial Protein Production: Sugars and degradable protein from QLF enhance microbial protein production, providing a valuable source of metabolizable protein to help fuel milk and component production all year long.
  • Enhanced Forage digestion: QLF improves forage digestion, which helps make more milk from the forages consumed. Better fiber digestion improves passage rates and DMI, which is especially important during summer’s hot weather!
  • Less Ration sorting: QLF conditions the ration, improves palatability, and increases consumption of long forage particles, so more milk is made from the forage consumed! Less sorting leads to a more optimal rumen pH, which keeps the rumen “cool” and helps maximize production of milk protein and fat.
  • Precision Feeding: When intakes are challenged due to summer’s heat, it becomes even more important to make sure that the TMR is properly loaded and mixed, so each cow receives her needed nutrients every day!  Nutrients and additives within QLF are evenly distributed through the product.  The fluid, sticky nature of liquid supplements mixes smoothly with the ration adheres the QLF to TMR ingredients of all sizes.  So, no matter where the cow eats along the bunk, even in the warmest of weather, she’ll receive her needed nutrient and additives from the QLF!

 

Grant, R. Stocking Density and Time Budgets. Proc. Western Dairy Management Conference. (2009).

Jones, R. Achieving Excellence in Dairying. PDF. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=dr+gordie+jones

Matzke W.C. Behavior of large groups of lactating dairy cattle housed in a free stall barn. Thesis. University of Lincoln Nebraska. (2003).

Norlund, K.V., Strassburg, P., Bennett, T.B, Oetzel, G.R, Cook, N.B. Thermodynamics of Standing and Lying Behavior in Lactating Dairy Cows in Freestall and Parlor Holding Pens During Conditions of Heat Stress. Journal of Dairy Science. (2019).  Vol. 102, Issue 7, p6495–6507.

Tresoldi, G., Schutz, K.E., Tucker, C. Cow Cooling on Commerical Dry Lot Dairies: A Description of 10 farms in California. California Agriculture. (2017).

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