Cow observations that make you money

Posted on November 17, 2011 in Dairy Performance
By Jon Rasmussen and Dr. Neil Michael Critically reviewing a few fundamental cow behaviors can positively impact cow health, performance and the overall attitude of employees.  Here are some good areas to watch during your next walk among your cows. Flight zones When you walk into a pen of cows, how do they react to your presence?  Do they head to the opposite end or can you walk through without a cow taking a step?  This is a very telling sign of the cow’s stress level.  Remember, the goal is for the cow’s energy to be spent on producing milk, not on dealing with stress. Doing a little research on dairy stockmanship is a valuable first step.  Learning more about handling techniques could enlighten you on why cows react the way they do.  Click here for more information. Time budgets High-producing dairy animals spend more than 12 hours per day lying down, five to six hours eating, and two hours drinking and for social activity.  Management activities include periods when animals are held for observation or treatment (one hour) and time away from the pen for milking (less than three and a half hours).  If management times exceed four hours, cow behavior and performance may be negatively impacted. A time budget calculator can be used to estimate available times for critical cow activities and often helps producers uncover costly time budget errors. Cow placement and stall use In properly sized and maintained stalls, 85 to 90 percent of the animals should be lying down to the rear of the stall within two to four hours after milking.  Monitoring animal placement and stall use is best achieved by making a valued member of your team, such as your vet or nutritionist, accountable for monitoring stall use on a routine basis.  This works well since they do not see your animals every day and can more easily notice issues that have become “normal” to your team. Locomotion Monitor locomotion with an objective scoring system.  Locomotion scores should be recorded in areas that are flat, non-slippery and allow animals to display normal walking tendencies.  Transfer lanes from the parlor are great areas to evaluate locomotion scores in your herd.  Hanging a small foreign object (clothing, etc.) on the return gate will result in cows’ brief hesitations, allowing you to more accurately score the animals.  Visit or for more information. Eating behavior Several factors can influence cows’ eating behaviors.  If feed is delivered late, they may lie down and develop irregular patterns for the day.  An inconsistent mix or spoiled feed may cause palatability challenges that switch cows from their textbook behavior.  Eating behavior should be observed daily by an internal team member with outside consultants’ help on a regular basis. Facility observations Does every area of your facility (alleys, parlors, holding areas, etc.) allow cows to move freely, especially to and from the feedbunk or water?  Observing the environment and thinking through future upgrades will help improve cows’ social interactions. Each time we optimize the environment, cows respond by attaining better production and health.  Make a commitment to monitor behavior using key members of your consultant team – both you and your cows will profit! An extended version of this article originally appeared in the November 1, 2011 edition of Progressive Dairyman magazine.  About the authors: Jon Rasmussen is a dairy technology specialist on the Vita Plus team.  He grew up on a small dairy farm in northeast Wisconsin.  Rasmussen attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science.  For the past six years, he’s specialized in records analysis for the Vita Plus dairy team.  He works with dairy producers and consultants to help them evaluate data for improved dairy business management. Dr. Neil Michael is the Vita Plus director of dairy initiatives.  He grew up on a dairy and swine farm in northeast Indiana and attended Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in food science, his DVM degree from the School of Veterinary Medicine and his MBA from the Kranert Business School.  Michael joined the Vita Plus team in 2010 with a special interest in helping producers with transition cow health and economics, reproductive management, and data management related to animal performance and employees.

Category: Animal health
Cow comfort
Dairy Performance
Facility design