Dairy cow welfare is focussing attention on the need to provide a safe, as well as a comfortable, cubicle bed for dairy cows which spend at least 14 hours of their day lying down.
This was certainly an important consideration for south west Scotland herd manager David Ellis when he took over the running of the 1200 cow herd owned by Forsyth Farms at Broadwigg Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Dumfries.
Lime-ash has been the main bedding used in the cow cubicles and a flood-wash slurry removal system is in operation. But this bedding was causing serious problems – not only because of the dust it creates but also its corrosive properties that were even corroding pipework on the machinery used to spread the bedding.
The lime ash was also creating a build-up of sediment in the flow channels in the cubicle house – a costly disadvantage that required regular attention. Last year a digger had to be used to remove a 6ft deep solid layer of lime ash that had become deposited in the slurry store.
“We’ve been looking at alternatives. We wanted a bedding material that was easy to use, comfortable and safe for the cows and one that didn’t cause problems once it was in the slurry system. It had to be useable and feasible,” says David.
The herd, which has a 10,000 litre average and is milked three-times a day – 5am, 1pm and 8pm – is managed to exacting standards and milked through a 60-point Dairymaster rotary parlour. Cow diets are based on a TMR mix of grass silage, maize silage, wholecrop, Vitagold and straights with no in-parlour feeding.
Aiming to achieve four or five lactations per cow means welfare is a priority, but David says having to cope with the high levels of dust created by the lime ash bedding wasn’t acceptable.
“It can’t be doing cows any good when you see their nostrils caked with lime-ash after we’d spread it – and certainly not for freshly calved heifers that probably aren’t feeling on top form when they come into the cubicles house. And when we do get pneumonic lung issues in the heifers it’s very possible that they’re linked to the dust from the lime-ash,” says David.
EnviroBed is now being used in the cubicles in combination with some lime-ash. The combination of the two is providing the “ideal, inert bed”, says David Ellis.
“It’s the best solution for large herds based on cost as well as producing no slurry problems. Cell counts are around 120,000 and out of 1000 cows being milked there are usually only eight to 10 cows in the mastitis group.”
EnviroBed is a dry matter product that’s five times more absorbent than straw and proven to reduce cell counts and mastitis.
“With three times a day milking the cubicle bed management has to be spot on and the Envirobed is making a big difference,” says David Ellis who had previous experience of Envirobed when it was used for the dairy herd at Harper Adams University.
“Our aim is to run a herd of healthy, easy-care cows on a high-forage based system. We’re now creating a really good bed for the cows and don’t have the problems of dust or the build-up of material in the slurry system to deal with,” says David.