Meeting cows lying down needs
Winter conditions can affect cows’ ability to get the minimum amount of daily lying time they need to be healthy and comfortable.
Research has shown that cows prefer lying down to feeding during challenging conditions. Cow lying time is driven by surface conditions and space. On a winter break-fed paddock, cows need access to enough dry area to lie down and meet lying time requirements (a minimum of eight hours a day).
Studies show lying times are reduced during and shortly after prolonged wet weather events. That’s because, from a cow’s point of view, wet surfaces are less comfortable to lie on. If wet weather continues for even longer, a cow’s lying time will reduce to very little at all.
DairyNZ Southern Wintering Project leader Nick Tait says, during bad weather, farmers can increase their herds’opportunity to lie down. For example, have a long feeding ‘face’ (a minimum of one metre of the overall exposed feed area per cow) and provide plenty of supplement in bale feeders. Some farmers prefer block feeding which comes at a cost around utilisation and can be unsuitable for fodder beet.
“Having a long feeding face means the cows have more space,” says Nick. “Less crowding means soils don’t get as pugged and damaged.” He adds that moving the break more regularly also helps to keep the cows presented with a drier strip. “Be careful though if you’re doing this with fodder beet, as it may impact allocation.”
Have a Plan B
Southland farmers told us about how they prepare for and manage this issue during extreme wet periods.
- Create more space by opening the paddock next to the crop paddock
- Move stock to drier paddocks elsewhere on farm
- Have a break with a hedge ‘up your sleve’ for when it snows or a storm is due
- Move or drop the back fence back out to allow access to drier areas
- Provide a stand-off facility to reduce treading damage (although concrete surfaces are no more preferable than wet mud for lying down)
None of the Plan B options should prevent access to water, as cows on crops will still drink a lot of water.
Set your Plan B ‘trigger point’ (how muddy is too muddy?) and cover the following:
- Ensure cows have access to a drier lying spot most
- Quickly split off individual sick cows to be cared for elsewhere.
- Provide your team with the skills, time and resources to do these
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