Leading New Zealand vet, Neil Chesterton, visited the Murray region for a series of workshops and on-farm demonstrations focused on the prevention of 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. Understanding cow behaviour is the first step in designing a system that works well.
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 so that if she stands on a sharp stone she can quickly lift or drop her head to take the pressure off the affected foot.
When a cow is put under pressure, her head is forced up, increasing the risk of foot damage if she steps in the wrong place.
The Flight Zone and Balance Points
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.
Walking, Tracks and Obstacles
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 like wide laneways with plenty of space to move and a relatively flat platform to walk on. It’s a fine balance between having a laneway that cows find comfortable to walk on and one that allows for good drainage to prevent muddy conditions (also a risk for lameness).
Laneways should follow ridge alignments or catchment divides so that water naturally drains away. A gentle camber of no more than 5% to parallel drains works well.