The winter housing period is fast approaching and every farmer should carry out a farmyard assessment now.
Asses whether your farmyard and housing is pollution free and safe, healthy and comfortable for animals, enabling your animals to make best use of feed, and enabling you to make best use of labour in pleasant surroundings.
If the answer to any of these is no, you should take some action now.
Small changes may make a big improvement. If necessary improvements can’t be made, you should consider selling some stock before the winter, because inadequate winter accommodation is the cause of very severe losses.
It has been proved that animals in comfortable accommodation will thrive much better (20%) than animals in poor conditions getting the same feed.
Be aware of all the environmental regulations, because the cost of non-compliance could be very severe.
An easy-feed layout should normally prevent pollution, improve animal performance and reduce labour requirements. This of course costs money, but if you have a large, leaky farmyard layout or bad housing, some changes have to be made, in order to avoid penalties for non-compliance.
Changes to be made depend on what you can afford and your present and future requirements.
If your farming plans are uncertain and money is scarce, substantial improvements can very often be made by tidying up the farmyard and separating clean and dirty water. Soiled water is the greatest source of agricultural pollution, and must be minimised.
Temporary easy-feed set ups, which reduce the amount of dirty yards; erection and maintenance of eave chutes and channelling clean water to soak ways and waterways, will drastically reduce storage requirements for slurry and soiled water.
The most critical aspects of cow housing are ventilation, cubicles, ease of cleaning, animal and environment friendliness, and labour efficiency.
Getting them right in medium to large herds usually requires an easy-feed layout.
Poor ventilation is a common problem in cow housing, and is a major cause of lameness, mastitis, E coli infections and other health problems.
If constructing a new building, the roof should have space between roof sheets. Ventilation in existing buildings can usually be easily improved. If animals have been sweating in houses during past winters, remove sheets from gable or sides and replace them with Yorkshire boarding, and perhaps raise a few roof sheets. Be careful to avoid draughts, which aggravate the effects of bad ventilation.
Bad cubicles are the scourge of many dairy farmers. They cause lameness, infertility, poor production and are a major contributor to premature culling. Don’t force your cows to lie in bad cubicles or in passageways. A lot of the older cubicles are not fit for purpose and should be replaced.
It is essential to have one cubicle per cow, and cubicle houses should be well lit, with freedom of movement to avoid bullying. If you haven’t time or money to bring cubicles up to standard, consider taking out the most vulnerable animals to lie in straw-bedded housing, or an outdoor pad or dry area.
Always use soft bedding or mats on cubicles and keep them dry and clean. Cubicles should be cleaned twice daily and dusted with lime. Also, consider getting rid of surplus stock before the winter if accommodation is scarce.
Rough concrete areas and bad roadways should be eliminated, as these are also major causes of lameness. One or two bad patches of concrete in a cubicle house will cause widespread problems, so eliminate them now.
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