Low-stressed cows means better producing cows

Most producers know stressed animals do not perform well, and this leads to lost time, resources and profits. Working to keep dairy herds as stress free as possible will keep cows fertile and happy, and milk production up.

Keep Cows Cool

Heat stress is a big problem for dairy cows, especially in the Southwestern United States. Cows need shade and air movement, explained Donna Amaral-Phillips, Extension Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist with the University of Kentucky.

She suggested producers rotate shade tree paddocks in order to protect the trees and reduce exposure to environmental pathogens that can occur from a lack of rotation (buildup of feces, mud, etc.)

Producers should enact their heat stress reduction management practices when the temperature consistently reaches 65 degrees to stay ahead of the problem. Where possible, use sprinklers or soaker systems, advised Amaral-Phillips.

“Turn them on and wet the cow’s hair and let the water evaporate to cool them,” she said.

Many of these systems are equipped with timers for ease of use. Cows should always have access to plenty of fresh water as they will drink 15 to 20 gallons of water per cow, depending on the temperature and their milk production.

“One of the largest costs of heat stress is reduced fertility, Reagan Bluel, Dairy Field Specialist with the University of Missouri, said. “Fertility is primarily compromised through early embryonic loss, and can be a direct result of heat stress.”

Humidity is often as much to blame as sheer heat – understanding the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) can help predict the potential of heat stress so appropriate management strategies can be put into place.

Provide a Comfortable Environment

A comfortable environment goes a long way towards good production, especially for an animal that spends up to 12 hours a day lying down and ruminating. Producers should provide dry and shaded housing or areas in the pasture where cows can lie down and stay relatively clean. Many dairy producers are looking to compost bedded pack barns, which provide a cool, clean environment for the cows to rest in and is relatively easy for the producer to manage. The open floor barns are filled with kiln dried sawdust that is mechanically stirred on a regular basis to compost the manure. Many producers will turn the compost while the cows are out of the barn being milked. Cows should also have plenty of feed and water provided to them, with ample room for them to get to these resources.

Keep Social Dominance in Mind

Dairy cows are normally pretty easygoing, but producers should monitor for any stress relating to social dominance (bullying).

This sometimes arises when group changes occur, especially if a producer is working with multiple smaller herds. Age and size difference are also factors in stress resulting from social dominance. Bluel suggested that, where possible, producers separate first calf heifers from mature cows, “to reduce stress and to promote good nutrition management for still growing heifers.”


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