The next month represents the last chance to make any changes before the winter to improve cubicle comfort for cattle.
The result of an uncomfortable cubicle means, cows lying less, ruminating less, more prone to mastitis and more likely to suffer lameness – often resulting in earlier culling.
Michael Garvey, dairy development adviser with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), said: “A cow should be able to lie in her cubicle for more than 12 hours per day.”
“Changes don’t have to be costly either – moving pipes or opening sidewalls may be all that is needed. You should have at least one cubicle per cow.”
Research shows that for every 10 per cent increase in stocking rate above 80 per cent occupancy, there is a reduction in milk yield. The CAFRE dairy unit is managed to provide five per cent more cubicles than cows.
Garvey added: “Cubicles should be sized for the largest cows in your herd, shiny and rubbed divisions are too small.”
“To enable a cow to lie down and rise comfortably, there should be no obstruction in front of the cow restricting lunging. This means no horizontal rails above 15cm.”
Posts supporting cubicles to the side of the cubicle are acceptable if forward lunging is not otherwise restricted.”
If bed length is restricted, consider a cubicle division that allows good sideways lunging, he advises.
Regardless of the design of cubicle it is important to get the bed length, slope and kerb height correct. Garvey recommends that other examples of best practice are followed.
He continued: “The following cubicle dimensions were used in the CAFRE dairy unit for large Holstein-Friesian cows based on a range of international standards:
- Cubicle length (solid front) 2.85m for extra lunging space;
- Cubicle length (facing passages) 2.40m;
- Cubicle bed slope 2.5% (60mm);
- Cubicle division width 1.15m centres;
- Kerb height (including mattress) 0.175m;
- Bed length 1.70m;
- Neck rail height 1.32m;
- Neck rail diagonal 2.2m.
In the CAFRE dairy unit, the cubicle division includes a ground-level lower support rail that does not interfere with forward lunging and an upper support rail positioned high enough not to interfere with forward lunging but low enough to stop animals walking through.
Brisket boards and neck rails are, he pointed out, important to keep cubicle beds clean.
“Brisket boards are necessary to prevent cows lying too far forward, especially in forward lunge cubicles.”
Neck rails ‘push’ cows back when standing. They should be at least 10-50 mm above the stall bed to avoid cows hitting them too early when they are rising. If they are placed too low, they will keep cows from using the cubicles.”
“In the CAFRE dairy unit, the cubicles have a fully adjustable brisket board with round, comfortable edges and a sloping top rail allows for neck rail positioning according to animal size, allowing it to stand fully in the cubicle before lying down.”
Comfortable lying surfaces
“Comfortable lying surfaces for dairy cows are equally important as having the correct type of cubicle division.”
Bare concrete cubicle beds with bedding material on top are no longer acceptable for today’s dairy cow.
Various trials carried out to check the effectiveness of cow mat/mattress have shown that the lying time increases with the softness of the bed.
Try kneeling on the cubicle bed, if you can feel any discomfort, then it needs to be upgraded. “There are a number of easily installed and maintained products on the market.”
The choice of product should be decided in conjunction with the length of housing period, ease of installation, durability, ease of cleaning and can bedding get underneath, Garvey added.
“If renovating an existing shed to increase cubicle size, it is essential not to compromise on the dimensions of passages.”
“It is essential to give cows plenty of roaming space while moving throughout the building. As a rough rule, passage width between rows of cubicles should be 3m wide and where cows are standing feeding with cubicle behind, these passages should be 5.2m wide.”
Garvey concluded: “It is not all just about cubicles. At CAFRE, the dairy unit has been designed to comply with all relevant legislation and animal welfare recommendations.”
A series of technical notes and detailed design drawings are available to download by logging on to DAERA online services.