Happy Cows Make for a Healthy Earning

US - Research has shown how a healthy diet can boost production returns, but the importance of comfort is also creeping into the agenda. Evidence shows that happy cows produce more, reproduce more and stay in the herd for longer.
calendar icon 2 October 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

For more than six years, Bradford County dairy producer Glen Gorrell has relied on Penn State Extension to help him run a profitable business.

Through Extension's Dairy Alliance program, Gorell has long benefited from useful tips on labor management and financial stewardship at his Smithfield dairy. Over the past year, though, Penn State has helped increase Gorell's bottom line in a new way — by helping him keep his 570 dairy cows healthier and more productive.

"Our cows weren't producing as much as we wanted them to," said Gorrell, looking back to last year's numbers. "Our production had peaked."

Looking for a remedy, in July and August of 2007, Gorell worked with Penn State's nutrient management specialist Ginny Ishler, and Gabriella Varga, distinguished professor of animal science, to evaluate how he was feeding his animals.

"From both a research and extension component, we spend a lot of time on nutrition," noted Ishler, who manages Penn State's Dairy Complex, where researchers evaluate different feeding, breeding and excrement improvement strategies. "Our goal is to maintain health, maximize production and minimize excrement," she added. "Healthier animals produce more."

Glen Gorrell can testify to that.

"Now we feed our animals the way they do at Penn State," he said. As a result, Gorrell calculated, his cows now produce on average 90 lbs. of milk per cow per day. A year ago they were averaging 78 lbs. per day. "We are probably going to sell at least 3,000 lbs. more of milk per cow in a year," Gorrell reported.

Better nutrition is just one method for keeping cows healthier and more productive. Comfort is another, as Conestoga dairy producer Tom Barley discovered when he worked with Penn State Extension to design a six-row freestall system with drive-through feeding to house Star Rock Dairy's 850 milking cows.

"High producing dairy cows rest 10 to 14 hours per day," explained Dan McFarland, the Penn State Extension educator who worked with Barley on the system layout. "Proper stall design is essential to convince cows to use them, accommodate their needs when resting and assure their return."

By carefully considering size and placement of areas for rest, feeding, watering, ventilation and heat stress reduction, Barley was able to realize exceptional stall acceptance and use at Star Rock Dairy, making him (and his cows) happier.

"I would like to tell you they laugh and smile," McFarland joked, "but they 'show' us how happy they are by being healthy, reproducing and producing milk efficiently, and staying in the herd a long time."

Penn State dairy research has yielded more than a dozen standard operating procedures — dealing with topics ranging from feeding and bedding to vaccination schedules and access to feed — for animals ranging from calves to mature cows. All are designed to optimize animal health, profitability and environmental responsibility.

Further Reading

- You can view a Penn State factsheet by clicking here.

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