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Comfortable Cows Pay Off, Survey Shows

There”s cash in contented cows, a survey of the highest producing dairy herds in Wisconsin has shown.

Animal comfort figured strongly in the management strategies of six dairy farms that averaged more than 30,000 pounds of milk per cow last year, according to Scott Gunderson, Manitowoc Co. UW-Extension dairy agent.

Gunderson, along with Jennifer Keuning, Kewaunee Co. UW-Extension ag agent, and Randy Shaver, extension dairy nutritionist at UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, studied the housing, feeding and management practices on dairy farms with rolling herd averages exceeding 30,000 pounds of milk. Herd sizes ranged from 52 to 300 Holstein cows, with an average of 119 cows. The farms were spread throughout the state, in Barron, Fond Du Lac, Grant, Marathon, Pepin and St. Croix Counties.

Five of the six farms housed their lactating cows on mattresses in tie stalls. They also bedded the stalls with chopped straw, wood shavings or sawdust, which reduced the abrasiveness of the mattress surface and helped to keep the stalls clean and dry. The freestall dairy surveyed used sand bedding for all its cows.

This pampering produces profits. Studies have shown that blood flow through a cow”s udder increases when she is lying down, compared with standing. The increased blood flow helps to increase milk production. Th cows also have fewer foot and lameness problems, which keeps them healthier and in good energy balance, Shaver points out.

All six farms fed total mixed rations; four milked three times daily. Milk production ranged from 30,325 pounds to 32,865 pounds per cow, averaging 31,179 pounds. Fat averaged 3.6 percent and 1,108 pounds, protein averaged 3.2 percent and 993 pounds. Somatic cell counts averaged 216,000, ranging from 75,000 to 354,000. All the farms had vaccination and herd-health programs.

Average dry period was 57 days, ranging from 51 to 68 days. Average days to first artificial insemination was 84 , ranging from 55 to 100 days.

“It sounds trite, but the real key for the success of the surveyed farms is their attention to detail. These dairy producers are masters at looking at the big picture and then determining ways to improve performance at the cow level,” Gunderson says. “An example of this is the fact that on average, cows housed in the post-fresh group had their feed pushed up 5.5 times per day. This extra effort pays off with increased milk production and healthier cows.”

A copy of the Extension specialists” paper, with tables listing complete diet compositions and other information, on the WorldWideWeb at http://www.wisc.edu/dysci/uwex/nutritn/pubs/30000.html