Leading New Zealand vet, Neil Chesterton, will visit dairy farmers across the region in April, discussing ways to improve cow flow and reduce lameness.
Lameness is a significant cost to dairy businesses and to herds, and in most cases preventable.
Improving cow flow, through good stockmanship and the maintenance of well-designed infrastructure, can help to reduce lameness. With cows moving frequently between feeds, into and out of the dairy and yards, improving cow flow will also improve the efficiency of farm operations.
Neil will run on-farm workshops in Kyabram, Lockington and Finley, with a focus on understanding cow behaviour and making adjustments to farm operations and systems to improve cow flow.
‘I often hear of cow flow improving dramatically within two weeks of a team instituting the ideas discussed at the workshops’ he said.
Understanding cow behaviour is the first step in designing a system that takes pressure off animals, improves flow and reduces lameness. Cows are prey animals and behave to protect themselves. They are threatened when personnel stand in the wrong place, out of their line of sight or failing to respect their flight zone and balance point. They can also be frightened by loud and high-pitched noises, fast movement, and vibrations on the dairy rails.
Cows keep a watch on their surroundings, with their almost 330° vision, when their head is down. Their vision is predominantly monocular, with only 25-50° binocular vision which enables them to perceive depth, distance and speed. They need time to interpret what they see. They also have a blind spot directly behind them of about 30°.
Cows keep their head down to watch their footing. Walking normally, a cow’s back foot will follow the front, landing in almost the same place she has lifted the front foot from and that she knows is clear of obstacles. Even in the dark she must keep her head down. When a cow is put under pressure, her head is forced up, increasing the risk of stepping in the wrong place.
The flight zone is the space a cow needs to feel safe. The distance varies between cows. They have different zones for people and for more dominant cows. Looking a cow in the eye increases its flight zone.
Working on the edge of a cow’s flight zone, using balance points as the target of closeness or contact and moving quietly closer to encourage her to move, results in low stress handling. The most important balance point of the cow is the shoulder.
Cows are followers. They will follow set leaders and maintain set orders. These orders vary for collecting (walking and arriving at the dairy) and for milking.
Cows need space so they can move amongst each other in the dairy yard to re-order themselves. When there is adequate space, cows at the front of the line, who prefer to milk later, will wait to be passed by other cows. Signs that cows are under too much pressure, or that there is not enough space, include side-to-side touching, elevated heads, bunching rather than following and cows reversing to the back of the group.
Herds are creatures of habit. Developing routines and a consistent culture around handling can help to reduce stress. It is important that everyone on farm is attuned to cow behaviour and the systems in place for moving and milking cattle in a low pressure environment.
Neil’s upcoming workshops offer practical ways to reduce pressure on your herd and achieve good cow flow for improved welfare and ease of handling. The workshops are open to all farmers in the region.