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Data, technology drive cow comfort enhancements

Data loggers attached to the cows track comfort based on how often they stand up or lay down.

Kara Lynn Dunn

July 18, 2019

3 Min Read
Jessica Currie and Betsy Hicks
DATA IS GOOD: Jessica Currie (left) and Betsy Hicks, Cornell regional dairy specialist, worked on a project to gather more data about cow comfort at Currie Holsteins. Lindsay Ferlito (not pictured) developed the project alongside Hicks.R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension)

With a grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute, Cornell Extension dairy specialists Betsy Hicks and Lindsay Ferlito have developed a project to help farms assess opportunities to enhance cow comfort.

“We are working with farmers eager to learn what factors influence cow comfort and what they can do to positively impact the well-being of their cows,” Hicks says.

“This project lets us target an underserved market in smaller farms with tie-stall facilities,” Ferlito says.

The pair used data loggers that were attached to cows on participating farms for one week. The device collects data on how often and how long the cows are lying down, and how frequently they are getting up.

Although cow comfort has always been a key component at Currie Holsteins, a successful dairy in Tully, N.Y., Jessica Currie was particularly interested in participating. The farm houses 42 cows in a tie-stall facility and has 900 cows at a newer free-stall barn.

“The cows housed in the tie-stall facility at Currie Holsteins are mostly show cows and tend to be on the larger side,” Hicks says. “While lameness was not an issue for the Currie herd, the farm had not yet fully updated the smaller barn facility for the size of the cows there.”

“Participating in the data logging project prompted us to evaluate exactly what could be improved to make our cows even more comfortable,” Currie says.

Making improvements

Currie added sprinklers and fans for greater cooling, and made plans to adjust the tie rails to help the cows eat and drink more freely.

Hicks says providing farmers with concrete data is critical to help them identify ways to increase cow comfort and reduce incidences of lameness.

cows wearing data loggers
TRACKING COMFORT: These cows at Currie Holsteins in Tully, N.Y., are wearing data loggers under the blue leg wraps. The purpose of the loggers is to track how frequently the cows lie down and get up, indicators of cow comfort.

“Working one-on-one with the farms allows us to go beyond a cookie-cutter approach to tailor actions to the individual farm operation and management,” she says.

“We looked at each individual farm and individual animals: What are the stall dimensions? Does she have enough space? Does she have enough bedding? Is it a comfortable place for her to lie down?” Ferlito says.

More data the better

Currie likes the idea of being able to use data specific to her cows.

“We saw the benefit of the changes we made with our cows lying down longer, especially at the end of the barn,” she says. “To be able to see actual data from our cows to make decisions helps our cows, helps our management and, ultimately, helps us financially.”

Research from the W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, N.Y., shows that losing an hour of time lying down costs cows about 3.5 pounds of milk per day.

Additionally, lameness is widely considered one of the costliest issues for dairies. Estimates show that for the average farm, 25% of cows have mobility issues. A single case can cost at least $90 per cow and up to $500, with most of the costs associated with milk loss.

For Currie, longevity is the goal.

“We really want to make sure the barn environment is clean and comfortable, and that the cows are not stressed so they will make a lot of milk, last a long time in the herd and are happy,” she says. “It really is true, happy cows are healthy cows that make milk and want to produce.”

Hicks and Ferlito have worked with nearly two-dozen farms since the project began in 2018.

Watch the video below to learn more about their work, and to hear comments from Hicks, Ferlito, Currie and Tim Lawton of Lawton’s Jersey Farm in Newark Valley.

The data logger technology and individual farm assessment utilized in Hicks’ and Ferlito’s project is available for farms with tie-stall and free-stall facilities in New York through Cornell Extension.

Dunn writes from her farm in Mannsville, N.Y.

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