A stress free calving line that incorporates a specific “pamper pen” and “cuddle box” for freshly calved cows and calves is a must for every dairy farmer looking to maximise the longevity of their herd.
According to globally renowned Dutch vet and CowSignals cofounder Joep Driessen, looking after cows and calves at this crucial stage will help double a cow’s productive lifetime, reduce costs and environmental impact.
“In the UK, cows average 2.8 productive lactations compared to 3.4 in Holland. And the best farmers in Holland are achieving six productive years. The key to success is soft deep beds, a stress free calving line and one feed space per cow,” he said at a recent CowSignals team training day for Mole Valley Farmers at Duchy College.”
Mole Valley Farmers have been working with Mr Driessen to ensure all of their feed advisors are fully trained in Younstock Signals. By understanding key animal behavioural and physical signals, they will be able to offer farmers advice on how to meet the needs of their stock and consequently maximise cow performance and longevity.
As part of the day, Mr Driessen explained that the best farms housed cows and heifers on loose straw yards before and after calving. Animals were then moved smoothly along a literal line from the pre calving pen into the adjacent post calving pen to ensure minimal stress.
However, Mr Driessen said the most progressive farmers across the world were incorporating a “pamper pen” and cuddle box” into their calving line. This involved gating off a three by three meter area of the pre calving yard. As soon as a cow calved she would then be moved to this “pamper pen”.
The cow would then be put in a locking yoke with a gate swung round to keep her in place. Her newborn calf would be placed on top of hay in a 160cm by 75cm “cuddle box” directly under the cow’s nose on the other side of the yolk. Mr Driessen said the main objective was to get feed and water into the cow and ensure the calf received colostrum.
“If you get the cow eating straight after calving, you get the cow off to the right start by maximising dry matter intakes at this critical time. This means you help minimise the risk of ketosis or negative energy balance so she cleans up better – everything gets better,” he added.
CowSignals certified trainer and Mole Valley Farmers head of nutrition and technical service, Tom Hough said many farmers could easily adapt their loose calving pens by moving existing gates to create a “pamper pen”. Mr Hough said the benefits were extensive and included:
– Improved dry matter intakes – Putting the ration on top of or near calf in the cuddle box would encourage the cow to eat. Once the calf was removed (once the cow had been milked) she would continue to eat as the ration would smell of her calf.
– The ability for colostrum to be taken from the dam and fed to her calf immediately – Both colostrum quality and the ability of the calf to absorb essential immunoglobulins deteriorates over time so feeding the calf immediately would ensure its requirements were met.
– Setting the calf up for good start – this would mean she’s more likely to survive and also calve in at 24 months which is the most economical and environmentally friendly age to calve.
– Time saving in long term due to reduction in sick animals.