Good planning is essential for your cows winter wellbeing

We are now entering the drying off period. Another season is nearly over and, if you are anything like me, you will be looking forward to a little bit of downtime –  some of you may even go away on holiday. Your cows may be going away for the winter or, if you have them on the run-off, you will only need to feed them and leave them to it until tomorrow when you must feed them again. You don’t have to get up so early in the morning for milking and apart from the air temperatures life is good. We all need breaks and time away to refresh. It is the same for a cow. They need a dry period. They need a time of rest. They need to be able to lay down in a dry comfortable place, out of the rain and the wind. I have said in previous articles, that cows are lacking resting time under normal circumstances during the milking season.

Even on the best farms, cows are being deprived of resting time because there simply isn’t enough time in a day for a cow. I know it sounds silly but our dairy cows are over-worked during the milking season so the rest time during the dry period is even more important. However, when I drive through the countryside during winter I see many cows on winter crops – the management of which is critical for the cows’ wellbeing considering the cows that have died because of mismanagement with fodder beet. But, apart from the potential nutrition problems, there is also a problem due to the lack of proper resting facilities. You may think that this just doesn’t make sense because the cows don’t do anything other than eating and resting, but look at cow behaviour in the paddock. We all know that a well-fed cow’s normal behaviour during the day is grazing, drinking, laying down and resting. Cows don’t normally spend a lot of time standing. If they do there is a problem. The cow may be sick or it is raining or it is too hot and the cow is under heat stress. Now, when we look at cows on winter crops we see them spending a lot of time standing. This is not necessarily because they are sick or because it is raining. It is because there is nowhere for them to lay down and be comfortable especially when it gets muddy. Even in those muddy conditions, cows will lay down but only if they just can’t stand any longer.

Why is this important? Because tired cows don’t perform. Tired cows are under severe stress. Tired, stressed cows are much more susceptible to lameness. Sometimes the difference in numbers of lame cows from one season to the next is due to the wintering conditions. I know that costs need to be kept to a minimum to run a profitable farming operation but if you want to calculate the true cost of the different farming systems you need to include the lameness cost during the upcoming milking season as well as the empty rate and mastitis cost. Much more research needs to be done in this area to get a better understanding of the true cost. It is quite likely that the cheapest system may be the costliest.

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