CAFRE Business Development Groups (BDG) have covered a wide ranging and varied agenda of discussion group meetings over the last three years, writes Mark Scott, CAFRE Senior Dairying Development Adviser, Newtownards.
An East Down group recently met in Comber to review the programme that took place in the last 12 months and plan ahead for topics and hosts in the coming year. This planning ensures the subjects covered interest everyone in the group and ensures each meeting is a worthwhile time spent off the farm.
One of the topics proposed for later in the year is ‘dairy building design and cow environments’. It is not necessary to be planning a major development in the future for this subject to be of use. In fact some members of this group have carried out smaller refurbishment and reconfiguration projects in the last year that have revolutionised cow flow, feeding and environment for their cows. These projects will undoubtedly deliver milk in the tank through improved cow comfort, lower levels of lameness and increased lying time. On one farm visit after such a project had taken place, 30 minutes after milking 90 cows all but two of those cows were lying, cudding in their cubicles. That in itself is testament to cow comfort.
There are four main factors when considering any cow house refurbishment or new build.
1. Cubicle dimensions and Passage widths
These design features must be considered before any decisions are taken about overall shed widths. If reconfiguring existing sheds it is essential not to compromise on the dimensions of cubicles or passages. As a rough rule a cubicle bed against a wall should be 2.7m, a central double row bed with shared lunging should be 4.8m and an open fronted single bed should be 2.4m long and each should be 1.15m wide. Passage widths between rows of cubicles should be 3.6m wide and where cows are standing feeding with cubicle exits to their rear, these passages should be 5.2m wide. For the standard cow house consisting of one row of cubicles against the wall and one double row with feeding through the external side the basic internal width needs to be 16.3m.
2. Feed space
The more feed space available the higher feed intakes will be and again this puts milk in the tank. Where heifers are mixed with cows, increased feed space is essential if the heifer is to feed when she wants and not just after more dominant cows have had their fill. As a minimum for the modern dairy cow 30cm of feed space per cow is required when ad lib easy feeding. Again, using the standard design of three rows of cubicles and feeding along one external wall, this will provide around 45cm of feed space per cow which will lead to improved intakes and reduced bullying at the feed face. With this increased feed space - more economical feed fence options such as simple post and rail are adequate due to the decrease in bullying.
Most farmers rarely consider ventilation before ordering the steel work for a shed. Although most new or reconfigured dairy cow buildings are now more open around the sides this ‘inlet’ area should not be confused with overall ventilation. For optimum ventilation an adequate ‘outlet’ is essential and the ideal place for this outlet is along the ridge of the building. Rules of thumb will not work here but if you are in a BDG speak to your CAFRE Dairy Adviser who can run through the inlet and outlet ventilation requirements for your building and give you recommendations.
4. Other considerations
There are many other considerations that will be specific to your farm yard and your cows when it comes to building design. Some of these will be the placement of drinkers, cow flow in and out of the parlour, crossover passages and dealing with slurry. Again for those farmers in a BDG you can talk through these detailed requirements with your CAFRE Dairy Adviser who has the knowledge and skill to guide you in these decisions.
· Detailed planning is essential when considering any housing project, whether it be reconfiguration or new build.
· Many existing dairy cow houses have inadequate dimensions and ventilation and this leads to a poorer environment, lower levels of comfort and inevitably to suppressed milk yields or health issues.
· Farmers who have completed improvement projects over the last 1-2 years and who have followed guidelines, have, without exception seen improved performance.
· Talk to your CAFRE Dairy Adviser if you are considering such a project and they can guide you through the requirements of modern dairy cow housing.
The BDG scheme is part funded under the EU 2014-2020 NI Rural Development Programme. If you would like to join the BDG scheme Tranche 4 is currently open for new applications and closes at 4pm on 5 March 2019.
See CAFRE website www.cafre.ac.uk for details.