When a farm struggles with lameness, trying to increase milk yields, or having a high somatic cell count, it may be as simple as altering your shelter management practices to make a difference in animal health, production, and profit margins.
Maintain your dairy farm shelters by keeping your facilities clean, facilitate proper bedding care and prompt, efficient, and hygienic methods for effluent disposal. Knowing the best processes for maintaining your shelters for dairy cows could be the difference between a herd of unhealthy and unproductive cattle and one that exceeds expectations and grows over time.
Keeping your facilities clean, investing in the best bedding and implementing an efficient effluent management system are all ways to maintain your shelters for optimal dairy output.
Keeping Your Facilities Clean
Keeping your cattle’s living space as clean and fresh as possible is paramount to a healthy farm and preventing disease and infection. The mundane task of a good clean also prevents fostering a breeding ground for bacteria, reduces possible sources of milk contamination, and is just generally necessary for all-around healthy conditions for both humans and animals in the vicinity.
To improve the condition of your dairy farm and make sure it’s in tip-top shape, it’s important to clean the feeding, sleeping and lactation area daily, especially if you have a large herd coming through on a regular basis. Be sure to remove dirt, dust, and manure from their bedding and, if it’s necessary, spray the cows down themselves with some soap and a hose. You can invest in an integrated spraying system to hose off the cows once a day or so, keeping your cows clean and preventing milk contamination.
SmartShelters livestock shelters are built with durable galvanised steel which is easy to clean and low maintenance. If you invest in a SmartShelters barn remember you buy with assurance with our 12 year pro rata warranty. If any shelter requires repairs, be sure to do them quickly and regularly to prevent any issues from escalating. The external surfaces only require a cold hose down for the build-up of mud or other debris.
How to Care For Dairy Cow Bedding
Cows spend multiple hours a day lying around which promotes optimal milk production. Investing in and maintaining optimal bedding is a prime aspect of dairy farming.
Properly Bed All Mattresses
Providing cows with the proper amount and type of bedding while keeping costs low is often a problem for farms that use mattresses. A freestall should have at least 1 to 3 inches of bedding on it at all times to ensure the cow stays clean. When using mattresses, organic bedding can also be used. Wood shavings, sawdust, or paper are all forms of organic beddings that a farmer can layer on top of the mattress. This makes the bedding more enticing and comfortable for the cow and cleaning and maintenance are facilitated by simply removing the top layer.
Keep Freestalls Clean and Dry
Manure and urine should be cleaned out of the stall every time the cows leave to be milked. Composting barns or composting bedded pack (CBP) are the future of soft floor cow housing, they use an aerobic system of ‘good bugs’ to compost the effluent, keeping the bedding dry and your herd healthy. And once the bedding is taken out, it can be used as a nutrient-rich fertiliser.
Replace Old Mattresses When Needed
The maximum lifespan on most foam/rubber mattresses is 10 years. By that time, the rubber or foam has compressed and is very hard and not a comfortable surface for cows to lie down on. Replace or fix any leaks that may show in waterbeds as soon as possible to ensure the continued comfort of cows and prevent any disruption to your production.
Design the Shelters to Fit the Cows
The biggest cow in a herd should be taken into consideration when designing or installing a new barn or renovating an existing one. The stalls should be sized appropriately for your largest cow. If a stall is too small, it will discourage bigger cows from lying in them, thus impairing their milk production. SmartShelters will work with you to customise and install the right size barn for every farmer and their herds needs.
How To Deal With Effluent
The average dairy cow produces 60kg of manure a day! What a load of poop! Now, how many heifers do you have in your herd again? A little manure can do wonders for your pasture or your vegetable garden, but when it builds up on a large scale in barns, breeding bacteria that can lead to disease, you need to have a system in place to manage this. If you don’t already have an effective and comprehensive effluent management system, this is something you need to consider; managing it incorrectly can lead to nitrogen leaching into waterways.
A composting barn only requires cleaning out once a year. However if you don’t yet have one and your cows are housed in a typical barn or shed, the structure will need intensive levels of cleaning to remove effluent regularly throughout the day. A full disinfectant wash down may only be necessary occasionally. For a full disinfectant wash, you can either wait for a time when all cows are out at pasture to disinfect, or you could remove a portion of the herd at a time and run a rotating schedule in which a block of stalls can be sectioned off and cleaned each day until all have been disinfected and the cows can return to the shed.
You can eliminate the need for any of this daily effluent cleaning with the use of a composting barn. Our composting barns are open plan with a soft bedded floor made from organic materials capable of decomposing over time. This turns the effluent into a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser and helps to reduce nitrogen leaching by 50%. There are many other benefits to composting barns such as increased milk production, the ability to monitor a nutrient balanced diet and cattle health issues, increased lying time and more. Please get in touch with the SmartShelters team to learn more.
Why Invest in Livestock Shelters
Cattle need only minimal shelter and some farmers choose the natural characteristics of the countryside (for instance, valleys and hills) to provide shade and relief from the elements. However, livestock shelters are proving time and time again to be the optimal solution to improve milk production, sustainability, and your bottom line all the while keeping your heifers happy and healthy. Cattle without shelter need to put more energy into normal functioning and less into production, they also eat more. A good shelter can minimise the impact of climatic extremes and prevent suffering or possibly even death.
Some farms may prefer to keep their farming practices as they are but have a barn as ‘insurance’ against big weather events that cause pasture damage and reduced pasture growth. A client of SmartShelters estimated $80k worth of farm and pasture damage and lost production last spring because they didn’t have a barn. Turning a paddock to mud in a storm may involve regressing the paddock which is expensive and the pastures take a while to respond.
We estimate a switch to indoor farming can expect a 10-20% increase a year for 3 or 4 years. Hitting a milk target of 120% of live weight then holding it stable. For example production for a cow weighing 500kg starts at 440kgMS per cow before the switch to barns. Once indoor farming is implemented that lifts to an average of 600kgMS per cow within 2-3 seasons.
Why Compost Barns Are Good For Your Cows
Farmers have been using livestock shelters for decades and, throughout this time, these structures and their associated systems have transformed significantly. With more than 100 years of experience in this field SmartShelters composting barns are leading the way to sustainable, efficient, effective and profit inducing systems for dairy farming.
Using aerobic composting with beneficial bacteria is effective in ensuring that bed covers are fresh and your cattle are in optimal shape. When you’ve cleaned the bedding, it can be reused as a nutrient rich fertiliser. Composting barns assist cattle farmers in improving herd health while extending the prospect of winter farming and increasing productivity.
Cow manure can be composted and worked into the soil in order to increase the quality of your pastures and the productivity of your vegetable garden. If you’re ambitious, you also can use manure to make electricity for your home or the barns.
A Composting Shed Improves Productivity
Multiple studies have shown that cows that are more comfortable produce more milk throughout their productive life. There are many aspects of a cow’s well-being, but their shelter and bedding play a major part in their productive capacity. CBP bedding provides a soft ground and the microbiota of the composting organic material has an added benefit of restricting the growth of pathogenic bacteria that often cause mastitis in cows. The freedom to move in a CBP barn increases activity and exercise levels, and combined with the freedom to feed, these factors increase dairy output. The provision of organic fertiliser from the bedding enables more productive pastures as well, decreasing the need for synthetic feeds and synthetic fertilisers and enabling the cows to indirectly contribute to their own productive capacity.
Ultimately, the decision to switch to composting barns is borne out by the data. Healthier cows produce more milk solids per head. Bedding becomes organic fertiliser to improve your yields without the additional expense of artificial fertilisers. If you’re a commercial dairy farmer and you want to be more profitable, investing in the conversion to composting barns will pay dividends.