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Resting is important for dairy cows

Resting is important for dairy cows
Comfortable cows make more milk, stay in herd longer

By Mark Mayer

It's well documented that cows that are comfortable make more milk and stay in your herd longer.  Cows will display many signs regarding their stress and comfort levels. Monitoring these signs and making adjustments when needed is important to achieving maximum production.

Daily rest is important to cows for many reasons. It's their version of REM sleep, they get their weight off their feet, ruminate more, and resting enhances mammary blood flow.

Daily routine
A milk cows' daily routine includes eating, ruminating, drinking, standing around, socializing, getting milked and resting.  We take cows away from their daily routine so we can accomplish ours - cleaning barns and stalls and locking cows up for routine procedures.  Unfortunately, resting time is the part of a cow's day that humans usually disrupt.  Overcrowding of stalls and excessive parlor hold times are two of the main factors that reduce cows' available resting time.  Daily rest time is important to cows for many reasons. It's their version of REM sleep, they get their weight off their feet, ruminate more, and resting enhances mammary blood flow.

Research done at the Miner Institute demonstrated that the average cow needs 12 hours of resting time.  However, cows in the upper echelon perform better with at least 14 hours. Many of these higher producers have figured out how to manipulate their schedules to allow for a greater amount of resting time. They are often the first ones in the parlor, or they spend less time eating or socializing.

The short-term cost of violating adequate resting time is approximately 2 to 3 pounds of milk per day for every hour of rest time taken from a cow. Longer-term costs of increased laminitis, decreased body condition and reproductive performance could be even greater. Some ways to reduce "imposition time" on cows include splitting groups at milking, enhancing parlor routines and cow flow, sizing the holding area so that cows spend no more than an hour in them, and judiciously using lockups.

Cow comfort
Stall design and maintenance has a large impact on a cow's resting time. The proportion of cows lying down in stalls -- should exceed 85% and it's usually highest one to two hours after milking. The proportion of cows touching a stall that are standing – should ideally be less than 20%.  Anything greater has been associated with increased levels of lameness and may indicate adjustments to stalls are required. The best time to measure the stall standing index is approximately two hours before milking.  If your herd isn't meeting these numbers, evaluate your stall design and maintenance of the beds.

Another measure of comfortable cows is their rumination time. Your cows are much more likely to be ruminating when lying comfortably, being milked or calmly waiting in the holding area than when they're stressed. The average cow ruminates for eight hours per day.  You should expect to see 50% to 60% of the cows ruminating while lying in the stalls. 

There are times throughout the day when the percentage of cows ruminating will be slightly higher or lower than this, but the average throughout the day should be 50% to 60%.  If it is less than this stall bed or design may need to be improved. 

An excellent resource for cow comfort and stall design is available at the Dairy Initiative website at

Mayer is the Green County Extension dairy and livestock agent.

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