Watch the cows, and use a tape measure

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Watch the cows, and use a tape measure

Date: 
Thu, 03/04/2010

You may have noted that the Hoard's Dairyman Farm has benefited from having a management team that has met regularly over the past 1-1/2 years (February 10, 2010, issue, page 108) and having converted our heifer free stall barn to a bedded pack area for our close-ups (March 10, 2010, issue, page 177). We also tweaked the prefresh ration to reduce sorting.

The changes have made a difference, especially in pregnancy rates that have improved notably over the past six months. But we have been seeing more retains and metritis cases during the past few weeks.

The invaluable part of having a management team in place is that you have an established way to brainstorm what may be causing a problem and a procedure for making decisions and taking action quickly to get things back on track.

In our March 10 article, we talked about having at least 100 square feet of bedded pack and 28 inches of manger space per cow at capacity (70 close-up cows and heifers). But it is important to watch your cows and use a tape measure. Jason Yurs, our farm manager, had been observing where cows were lying and not lying. He saw that there was a 22 foot-wide strip of bedded pack down the middle of the barn that the cows were using. There were 41 cows in the barn at the time which meant 72 square feet per cow. We had tried bedding closer to the open south side of the building, but rain and snow blowing in kept the bedding in that area wet. Plus, cows avoided lying in areas around the waterers which were out in the middle of the bedded areas, it being a retrofit.

Wanting to make sure that we maintain good intakes in that prefresh group, we put sand down in the feeding area to give cows more confidence as they go the manager, with plans to do some grooving when possible. We also will try to devise a way to keep some of the further-off dry cows in another area to reduce pressure on the pack.

We're trying another tactic that will reduce pressure on the close-up barn and help heifers get off to a better start. When bringing them back from the heifer growers, they will be put either in Pen 1 (our first-calf heifers) or Pen 5 (our tail-enders), depending on where space is available, so the springing heifers will have some free stall and parlor experience before they are moved to the close-up barn just before calving.

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