It’s the start of another year and how the world we live in has changed. We are all encouraged to stay at home and socially distance from one another, but have you ever thought about how your animals live together and socially interact? Effectively they are ‘working from home’ 365 days of the year.

Now in the middle of the winter season, are your cows comfortable and performing to their maximum potential considering the environment they live and work in? If sheds are above 100% capacity i.e.1 cubicle/cow, the ability of each animal to sleep, eat or drink can be compromised and her performance level can drop. As cows are dried off and others calf back into the herd, keeping a close eye on numbers and not pushing the boundaries too far is important. Vulnerable animals are likely to be the ‘new’ ones, a fresh calved cow or new heifer, the ones that really need no obstacles to overcome if they are to hit expected peak yields.

When housing cows for winter it is important to remember the 5 freedoms of an animal.

1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition

2. Freedom from discomfort

3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease

4. Freedom to express normal behaviour

5. Freedom from fear and distress

There shouldn’t be anything to stop a cow accessing fresh food, clean water and a dry space to lie down. Stocking density is a vital consideration. Every cow needs her own space in order to feel comfortable and to be able to move around her housing freely without fear of intimidation from others.

Each herd has its own social order with some more dominant animals and others at a lower rank,

heifers for example. Optimising the number of animals in a shed rather than maximising it will have positive effects. By keeping cow numbers at 1 cow/cubicle (or less) this will encourage cows to lie down for between 11 and 13 hours per day. Doing this helps to minimise the time they spend standing on concrete reducing the risk of lameness in the herd. More space allows the more timid animals a better chance to express their natural behavioural patterns.

One question we should all ask is, are your cubicles comfortable for your cows? If cows feel uncomfortable in a cubicle they tend to only lie down when very tired. This results in lying times being longer than usual, reducing feeding and drinking time. Selective eating would then increase, meaning health and production problems can occur. Cows prefer a cubicle with comfortable deep bedding – improving lying time starts with cow comfort.

Giving all cows access to feed at the same time avoids less dominant cows being pushed out and improves dry matter intakes across the milking herd. Pushing up of silage more often will encourage cows to come and eat more often too.

Access to water troughs is just as important. Cows can consume between 30 and 50% of the daily requirement for water within 1 hour after milking and a space of 2 inches per cow is recommended.

Several options for troughs can help reduce the risk of a dominant cow controlling access to drinking. A source of water is just as important as fresh feed, without water, feed intakes and production will drop. Troughs should be cleaned regularly, if you wouldn’t drink it, why would your cows want to?These are just a few important points to consider during winter. Every shed has its ‘risk’ points.

Identifying and trying to reduce these is an ongoing task, but all improvements will be a positive change to your cows and milk production.

Davidsons Dairy Tech team are experienced advisors in all cow management systems and ruminant nutrition. We can provide you with positive advice on how to maximise your dairy herds performance. Small changes will lead to bigger rewards.