Cow Comfort Assessment Tool

Excerpted from "Score Seven Areas of Cow Comfort on Your Dairy," by Bill Stone, Northeast Dairy Business, February 2006

Time Budgets

Cows’ daily chores include eating, ruminating, drinking, standing around, socializing, getting milked, and resting. Additional required chores – cleaning the barn and herd-health work – take time away from the cow. Resting time is the part of the cow’s day that usually disrupt.

Time cows spend eating, drinking and socializing is about 8.5 hours. Cows also require 12-14 hours of rest. To allow the cow this time, producers are left with just 3.5 hours a day to fit in other management tasks.

The short term cost of reducing resting time may be 2 to 3 lb milk per hour of rest lost. Longer term costs may include increased lameness and decreased reproductive performance. Overcrowding and excessive parlor hold times are two of the main impositions.

Look for ways to reduce "imposition time" by splitting groups at milking, enhancing parlor routines and cow flow, judiciously using lock-ups, and reducing overcrowding.

Stall Usage Indexes

Stall usage indexes provide an indicator of stall acceptance. An index that has been associated with herd-mean standing time and increased levels of lameness is the the Stall Standing Index, or SSI. This is the proportion of cows touching a stall (i.e., lying or standing) that are standing. Because lying behavior changes during the day, it is important to make this observation approximately 2 hours before milking.

Target goal for SSI 2 hours before milking is less than 0.20, or 20%. Anything greater indicates the group’s average standing time is abnormally long.

Rumination

Rumination enhances saliva flow, providing buffers that act to raise rumen pH. This, in turn, reduces the risk of rumen acidosis and laminitis, and enhances ruminal digestion.

On average throughout the day, you should expect to see 50 to 60% of cows ruminating while lying in the stall. There are times throughout the day when this percentage will be higher or lower. Observe at least 20 cows that are neither eating nor sleeping.

Lameness & Hocks

You can most easily score lameness when cows are moving, such as walking to the parlor. The prevalence of lameness is influenced by a number of variables – the major ones being stall usage, standing time on concrete, the ration, control of infectious diseases, and hoof trimming programs.

You can best score hocks when cows are standing or lying down. Generally one hock per cow is scored. Inadequately bedded stalls often create hock problems. Cows kept in stalls deeply bedded with sand or manure solids typically have good hock scores, while those with a stable surface (e.g. mat or mattress) and minimal bedding will produce elevated scores.

Evaluate lameness and hock scores in your herd at different times of the year and use the targets provided on the chart.

Herd Bunching

Cows will bunch together when stable flies are biting and when they are heat stressed.

Determine if flies are causing the bunching by looking for twishing tails or tail stubs, stamping legs, or the occasional fly on the lower part of the legs.

Heat Stress

In barns with inadequate cow cooling, respiratory rates increase about 1.5 beats per minute (bpm) per deg. F. as temperatures move above the upper limit of a cow’s thermoneutral zone, which is approximately 68 deg. F., depending on humidity. Cows will exhibit increased standing as their rectal temperature exceeds 102 deg. F.

Target goals to control heat stress are:

  • Maximum respiratory rates of 70 bpm
  • Rectal temperatures below 102 deg. F. L

Ventilation Management

Adequate air exchange reduces airborne bacterial numbers, humidity levels, noxious ammonia, and excess heat.

Use the following guidelines for naturally ventilated barns with minimal or no insulation:

  • Winter: Barn air temperature within 5-10 deg. F. of ambient temperature.
  • Spring, Summer, Fall: Barn air temperature equal to ambient air
  • You need more ventilation if ammonia or other odors are evident.

Floors

Injuries can easily occur when housing floors are too slippery, and hoofs can wear thin when floors are too rough.

Grooves in concrete should be 0.5 in. deep and wide. Parallel grooves should be spaced 2-3 in. on center; grooves in a diamond pattern should be spaced 4-6 in. Concrete surfaces should be smooth, while the grooves should be cut at right angles and not have rough edges.

Soft rubber or well-grooved rubber belting can be used to improve the floor surface.

Resource List

Navigate these web sites to find information on all areas of cow comfort, including stalls, flooring, ventilation, heat stress, and foot and leg health.

Cornell University, CALS

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Miner Institute

Cornell University

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs

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