In Great Britain cattle tend to be housed for at least a few months a year, although this allows the farmer to keep the cows safe from harmful weather and other dangers, it does lead to the risk of cows not being as able to behave naturally and be as comfortable as they are when they graze the pastures. There are several elements that need to be considered – Water, light, air, rest, space and feed, all of which can be artificially controlled or assisted.
Sometimes a cow’s signals might go unnoticed by the farmer, over-familiarity with the herd can lead to a type of blindness to behaviour changes. That is why “standing back” is encouraged, taking a good look at the herd and noticing if any aren’t eating, drinking or lying down.
A cow’s day should comprise of roughly 14 hours lying down and the remainder of the day should be split between milking, socialising and eating. Ensuring that your cow is resting for 14 hours has been proven to improve milk yields by increasing blood flow to the udder, which can also lower the risk of mastitis.
At any one time roughly 85% of your herd should be lying down, if your cows aren’t lying down there are many factors to consider.
Firstly, is there space? If your cows don’t have enough space to lie down comfortably this could decrease their resting times, this might mean that the cubicles are too small or the wrong dimensions for the size of the cows.
Another factor to consider is bedding, if the cattle are uncomfortable then they aren’t going to rest. One recommended strategy is rubbing the bedding onto the back of your hand to test whether it will irritate the cows hock. Also keep an eye out for hock abrasions in the herd that could have been caused by the bedding. Providing your cows with soft bedding will encourage your cows to rest for longer and could increase your milk yields.
A dry and absorbent bedding will reduce the spread of bacteria and can lead to lowered levels of mastitis and general positive health in the herd. A healthy and happy herd will lie down for longer and this results in a larger milk yield.
If you listen to your cows they will tell you whether they’re happy and with, what will quite often be, a few changes you can improve overall herd health, because if you look after the cows, the cows will look after you.
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