Yarding cattle in winte
The winter housing period is fast approaching, and every farmer should carry out a farmyard assessment.
Is your farmyard and housing pollution free and safe; healthy and comfortable for animals to enable them make best use of feed; and enabling you to make best use of labour in pleasant surroundings?
If the answer to any of the above questions is no, take some action now. Even small changes may make a big improvement. If the necessary improvements can’t be made, consider selling some stock before teh winter.
Ensure you are aware of all the environmental regulations because the cost of non-compliance could be severe.
A good easy-feed layout should prevent pollution, improve animal performance and reduce labour requirements. This costs money and takes time, 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. The changes to be made depends 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, ensuring eave chutes channel clean water to soakways 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. In medium to large herds, this usually means a good easy feed layout.
Poor ventilation is a common problem in cow housing. This is a major cause of lameness, mastitis and other health problems. In 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, take action now by removing sheets from the gable or sides, and replacing them with Yorkshire boarding. Be careful to avoid draughts.
Bad cubicles are the scourge of many dairy farmers. They cause lameness, infertility, reduced production, and are a major contributor to premature culling. Don’t force your cows to lie in bad cubicles. It is essential to have one cubicle per cow, and cubicles 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 on straw-bedded housing, outdoor pads, or some other dry area.
Always use soft bedding or mats on cubicles, and keep them dry and clean. Consider getting rid of surplus stock before the winter.
Rough concrete areas and bad roadways should be eliminated, 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. Replace cracked and sagging slats; not only will they cause lameness, they also pose a risk of serious loss, if they break.
Farm roadways should be improved in the autumn when the chances arise.
Milking operations often take four or five hours per day, even in medium-sized herds. Very often, this time can be halved by the addition of extra milking units and improving cow flow through better entrances, exits, drafting and roadways. Farmers who have to spend half the day milking cows have little time for all the other important tasks which are necessary for successful dairying.
Farmyard improvements are costly. If a lot of work is needed, a step-by-step plan should be worked out to suit finances and future plans. Raising milk yields per cow will substantially reduce the cost of new housing and slurry storage on over half our farms. Why keep over 60 cows to produce a 50,000 to 60,000 gallon quota (at average Irish yields) when 45 cows can produce it more profitably?
Many dairy farmers are making plans for expansion. As regards buildings for expansion, the first thing to consider is what extra buildings are required and can you afford the cost. Plan carefully with the help of your adviser, to avoid running into financial difficulties in years to come. Outdoor pads are useful for some additional stock, but their use as a complete system is very questionable.