Cow comfort drives university research

Written by Peyson Shields

At University of Kentucky (UK) Coldstream Dairy in Lexington, Ky., students and professors are utilizing animal care benchmarks as a part of their research.

A little more than three months ago, 100 cows at the dairy moved into their new home — a compost bedded pack barn built with cow comfort in mind.

“The old facility was built in the early 60s, so it was time for an update,” says Jeffrey Bewley, associate extension professor and teacher for dairy cattle management courses. “We have been working on research for compost bedded pack barn systems, and we wanted to have one for more in-depth research.”

The 124-cow barn features compost bedding, maximum ventilation flow, fans, soakers and brushes. Not only is the new facility less labor intensive, but it’s also helping reduce heat stress, even in the middle of summer.

“The first day they moved in was pretty amazing,” says Bewley. “Production has increased a little bit, but I think we will see more of a spike this winter.”

When it comes to cow comfort, scoring plays a large role in understanding where the operation can improve. On a commercial operation, Bewley says that depending on the producer’s overall objective, quarterly or twice-a-year scoring could be helpful. And when it comes to numbers, scoring a percentage of your cows can be useful in determining the trend for the whole herd.

“Scoring for the sense of scoring isn’t helpful,” Bewley says. “You have to use the data for it to be worthwhile.”

UK uses the process of scoring benchmarks such as hock and knee lesions, locomotion, body condition and hygiene to help determine how they can improve their overarching goal of cow comfort.

Coldstream dairy helps support its research with scoring, but also with technology — think Fitbit’s for cows. Cow monitors can track feeding behavior, rumination, activity levels and even measures fat, protein and lactose in milk.

Learn more about scoring and how another DFA member incorporates it on his operation here.