RUSSIA - Sufficient space in housing areas is critical for cow longevity, a Russian conference heard last week.
Without regular access to food, it is easy for dominant animals to pressurise others from feed, whether in the feed bunk or milking robot, Israeli dairy expert Lior Yaron explained at the DeLaval Cow Longevity conference in St Petersburg.
Drawing on a wealth of knowledge gained from Swedish, Russian, Chinese and Israeli farming systems, he warned against trying to ‘copy and paste’ management strategies from abroad.
What farms can do is acquire ‘basic principles’ to drive efficiency and cow comfort.
Providing space is essential and of particular pertinence to Russia where a minority of cows still have horns.
“Giving cows an extra ten centimetres of bunk space often results in a lift in yield,” said Mr Yaron.
“A strong cow can block the progress of other cows and disrupt the routines so important to cow comfort.”
Outlining stall dimension as another industry standard, he listed space, comfort, ventilation and rumination as part of a recipe for long lasting cows.
Addressing the issue of dry cow transition, he said: “Many farmers dry cows off individually but it suits the cows better if it is done in small batches. Try doing it once a week, for example, to reduce stress.”
“In nature, cows have been noted to stand in groups of 25 and farmers could be advised that groups should be no bigger than 60 to 80.”
If not right, Mr Yaron said that barn design and herd dynamics can result in metabolic stress and health problems.
“Ad-libutum feeding is the best as cows prefer to eat nine to 14 meals a day,” he added.
Dutch veterinarian and housing expert Nico Vreeburg said that if barns and stalls are designed well, then everything else falls into place.
Explaining the reason behind variation in feed intake across farms, he added that 55 per cent is down to what goes on behind the feed fence.
When things are right, health, productivity and even pregnancy rates all improve, he explained.
“Disease prevention is about well-designed and managed cubicles and barns that allow for more feed space. Timid cows die young in badly designed barns.”
“Studies have shown pregnancy rates can lift from 35 per cent to 70 per cent by increasing the amount of feed space from 30 to 60 centimetres.”