Dr Gordie Jones talked about solving bottlenecks on dairy farms to eliminate stress from the life of cows, and improve productivity, at a recent AHDB Dairy-organised event in Worcester. Laura Bowyer reports.
In order to improve productivity by making more milk, Dr Gordie Jones said it was vital to ’take the stress out of a cow’s life.
Dr Jones, who milks 3,500 Jerseys at his Central Sands Dairy in Wisconsin, and designed the 65,000-cow Fair Oaks Dairy in Indiana, said milk production would only come as a result of the absence of stress. "High production shows there is no stress and everything we do to take stress out of the lives of cows will make more milk."
He said short-term fixes to problems related to cow-stress included cow comfort, dry cow management and nutrition, but longer-term fixes would determine whether or not the farm would stay in business.
He said 65-70 per cent of cow problems or ’bottlenecks’ on dairy farms related to cow comfort and ration and feed bunk management, and the right problems needed to be resolved first in order for productivity goals to be realised. With this in mind, Dr Jones went on to cover several areas of where improvements can be made to increase milk production.
Dr Jones said while it usually takes two-and-half years for a heifer to return a profit, achieving optimum nutrition would ’pay you back tomorrow’.
"You can turn a cow around in 90 days via nutrition,” he said.
Dr Jones said the problem often did not lie with the ration itself, but rather feed bunk management.
"You should be feeding 5 per cent more than what is needed," he explained. "Although on paper, feeding multiple times per day will give more milk, it will not work if you are feeding into empty bunks. The single biggest failure as a dairyman is having a bare concrete feed bunk by noon.
“We are in the ’last bite’ business and the last bite the cow eats when she is full is what pushes extra milk. The best cows tend to produce twice as much as the average cows and when you run out of feed, it is the higher yielders which miss out."
Low yielders were often fed a specific ration to save money and to avoid them getting fat, but Dr Jones said he did not feed multiple diets at his Wisconsin dairy.
He said: “I feed just one ration because of the financial risk. You need to weigh up the difference in milk production and the cost of feed. When you switch to one TMR you will have less fat cows.”
Dr Jones describedthe importance of maximising lying times.
“Cows should stand to milk, stand to eat and drink and then lie down. Cows do not normally just stand around, they are big and heavy and want to be a couch potato. Do not keep them away from feed, water and a bed for more than four hours. As prey animals, cows naturally want to fill their rumen as quickly as possible, and run to safety to cud.”
He added: “At my own farm, we had standing times of 5.5 hours, and when we got it back to four, we gained an extra 2kg of milk per cow per day.”
Every time a cow moves group, they lose milk, explained Dr Jones.
“Cows can learn 100 individual cow identities and develop a social order. Because of this social structure more than one water supply is required as the ’alpha’ cow will guard a water and stop other cows from drinking."
When the group size gets to between 100 and 200, the group splits and two social orders are developed, he added.
In the case of a group of more than 300 cows, there is no social order as there are too many cows to introduce themselves to, and so they just make a friend.
He said: “If you tag two heifers with consecutive numbers in a large herd, you will very often notice these animals stay with each other throughout their time on the farm.”
Although a herd animal, calves were often isolated for the first six weeks of life and Dr Jones said this could lead to their ’social skills’ becoming lost. As a result he advised keeping calves in even numbers so each of them can have a ’friend’.
He said: “Once they leave their indivudal calf hutch, they are confused and can only make one friend at a time.”
Dr Jones said comfortable and clean beds would quickly lead to increased milk production.
“When visiting a farm, I always look at how clean the cows’ hocks are when they are being milked. If they are dirty and wet, they get mucky on the way to the parlour. If they are dry, they get mucky in their beds.”
Dr Jones said he would avoid cubicle designs which meant cows were facing a wall when lying down as they preferred to see out into an open space to look for signs of danger.
He added the cow’s backbone should be close and parallel to the loop of the cubicle railing, and he recommended the loop should be 71-76cm deep.
He said: “Cows need a loop so they do not go sideways and therefore lie in a clean bed, which will reduce mastitis risk."
“They do not need to be taught to use cubicles. If the cubciles are good enough, they will use them themselves.”
Rubbed hocks was a sign of not having enough bedding and the bedding material needed to be absorbent and 10cm deep to prevent bacterial growth.
“The industry needs clean cows for its image,” he said.