DEAR Editor, I was very interested in reading about how young Jack Hayes, engaged with his unwelcome farm visitor (Dairy News Australia, October edition).
Professor Dan Weary told a Dairy Australia webinar that the ideal option for housing involved access to outdoor areas, a quality lying environment and clean, well-managed walking areas.
And Prof. Weary said farmers should make sure that engineers designing barns know about cows.
Prof. Weary, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, co-founded the university’s animal welfare program and co-directs the active research group.
Speaking at a Dairy Australia webinar on November 23, Prof. Weary said if farmers spend a lot of money on an indoor facility, they need to make it work well for their animals.
“There are ways of making it better but providing the animals with opportunity for choice is an important advantage of some of these systems. Even within a herd, different cows can have different preferences.”
Despite some problems, Prof. Weary said indoor housing has benefits and a role to play for Australian farmers.
“We have the idea that cows being outside on grass is the gold standard,” he said.
“People will say the ideal option is pasture, but there’s an important role still for housing. I think the ideal is providing the cow an opportunity for choice.”
Most cattle are housed in Canada “so we have lots of experience with what goes wrong”, Prof. Weary said, citing both design and management flaws.
“One thing that makes me want to bang my head – people build beautiful cubicles set for one cow per cubicle; then every sixth cubicle will have a post to support the barn roof that’s going right up the middle where the cow needs to stick her head. There’s a case where the builder isn’t thinking like a cow.”
Prof. Weary said farmers need to get the right advice at the right time.
“Once you’ve poured the concrete, you could see things like the drinker is in the wrong place or the food alley is too small so a dominant cow will block the lane and the subordinate cows will be waiting for hours. These can be fixed if they get the right advice at the right stage.”
He said a quality resting environment was essential and farmers shouldn’t skimp on bedding.
“It comes down to copious amounts of dry, well-maintained bedding,” he said.
“As long as there have been barns, there have been people selling the idea that you can house cows indoors with a low-bedding or a no-bedding system with things like mattresses or rubber mats.
“For the most part, those options don’t work very well and cause skin lesions, leg injuries and lameness.”
Designs should also include good standing areas.
“Our indoor environments are designed and built by engineers who love concrete and steel, which are highly resilient materials but not the surfaces the cow would choose,” Prof. Weary said.
“A lot of time standing on concrete is very hard on their feet, especially if the surface is wet, and especially if it is covered in a layer of manure slurry which is very often found in indoor environments.”
Getting the design right is only half the battle, as management is just as important.
“It’s one thing to say you have a deep bedding system, but you have to manage that so the surface remains dry, clean and even for the cows,” Prof. Weary said.
“It’s the same thing for standing surfaces – keeping manure of the surfaces is a good start. If you’re using a housed environment, it requires a high level of management.”
Professor Weary encouraged farmers to provide access to outdoor areas.
“An ideal option is some outdoor access to pasture,” he said.
“Think of it as a rest area for the cow so they are no longer standing on dangerous concrete surfaces.”
North American cows with the dual option tend to spend the warmer parts of the day in the shade of the barn and then time outside on pasture, mostly at night.
“From the cow’s perspective, the opportunity for choice to be on grass when they want and be out of the sun and in a dry environment can be very important. If well managed, it is a relief from extreme weather.”
The same principles apply to feed pads.
“If you have a cement pad to keep cows away from wet pastures, does it provide a suitable area for cows to lie down in? Concrete is not suitable and wet concrete and concrete with manure on top is particularly damaging for their feet,” he said.
Bedded surfaces must be able to drain properly and stay reasonably dry.
Prof. Weary said Australian dairy has a big advantage in its green pasture based image.
However, he said that non-pasture based options are important in regions with lesser pasture growth.
“Even areas with excellent pasture, having a well-managed, well-designed alternative area can be important for the cows and to provide respite and protection for the grass itself,” he added.
“One responsibility of farmers is to provide protection to animals, including from high levels of heat, lack of shade or very wet muddy areas.”
The full webinar can be viewed at www.dairyaustralia.com.au/People-and-skills/Education-and-careers/Webinars