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The impact of confinement period on milk production

In a recent study, Texas A&M University researchers discovered that keeping cows in self-locking head stanchions for lengthy periods of time had a negative impact on dairy cow performance.

Lock-up time is the length of time an animal spends restricted or locked into a head stanchion every day, which is often seen at dairy farm feed bunks. Dairy cattle are confined on a regular basis for pregnancy testing, artificial insemination, veterinarian treatments and inspections, immunisations, heat detection, and feeding.

However, it has been shown that using a head lock as a technique of restraint may have a detrimental influence on an individual animal’s well-being and productive performance within a herd, particularly if the device is used outside of the typical management routine.

According to studies, when this management practise is not followed correctly and cows are confined for lengthy periods of time (>4 hours daily), the animals suffer varied degrees of stress, which might jeopardise their productivity, health, and wellbeing.

Researchers investigated the effects of prolonged or extended lock-up period in dairy cattle in this study.

Milk production effects

Reduced milk output in cows is typical when lock-up period surpasses 4 hours, according to data from several research. Scientists from the University of Cambridge discovered that when cows are denied of eating and laying for more than 4 hours during hoof clipping, milk output is lowered by 2 litres per day for 3 days.

Stress is linked to longer durations of lock-up time. According to research, stress alters mammary homeostasis in dairy cows. It has been proposed that the stress caused by a longer lock-up period may result in suboptimal performance of alveoli in the mammary gland, resulting in reduced milk supply, increased mastitis incidence, and worse milk quality.

A comparable investigation on the effects of lying or standing on mammary blood flow in dairy cows found that lying time resulted in 24% greater blood flow to the mammary glands owing to cardiovascular homoeostasis caused by gravity. As a result, decreased lying time as a result of increased lock-up time may be another cause for the reduction in daily milk output in dairy cattle.

Cow protection

Recent research has linked headlock restraint for more than 4 hours per day to increased aggressiveness in dairy calves. This violent activity was discovered to be the result of dissatisfaction or discomfort experienced throughout the constraint phase. Aggressive conduct in dairy cows has been linked to worse reproductive performance, including decreased conception rates for heifers at first service, according to a recent research.

When compared to cows in an extended lock-up period, normal herd management increased the amount of time cows spent reclining, self-grooming, ruminating, and feeding. The changed time budget management as a result of increased lock-up time (>4h) has an impact on total daily cow behaviour. In another research, the authors discovered that cows that were denied laying for 2 hours lost their feeding time for the following 24 hours, and cows who were denied lying for 4 hours required 41 hours to regain their feeding time.

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Lameness and heat exhaustion

Lameness is a serious problem on dairy farms all around the globe, and studies suggest that longer lockup durations may increase the problem. Although studies examining the direct relationship between lock-up hours and lameness are lacking, some study work implies the possibility of the impact.

Researchers discovered that cows exposed to tight feed alleys and limited lunge space, resulting in more cow standing, were more prone to lameness in their study published in the Journal of Dairy Science. According to another research, prolonged lock-up time adds to departures from the typical daily time budget, demonstrating variability in lying time and lying bouts that predispose cows to lameness. However, experts recommend that the possible direct relationship between increased lock-up time and lameness be investigated further.

Furthermore, studies found that extended lock-up time (>4h) was more detrimental in hotter temperatures than in mild temperatures due to the additive effect of restraint stress and heat stress, implying that it is more critical to minimise lock-up time in extreme heat environments to reduce the detrimental effects of these stressors.

Cow in transition

During the changeover phase, the cows need extra lock-up time. Cows change their behaviour during the transition period, which is defined as the three weeks before and three weeks after calving. The transition phase is a key stage in the life of a dairy cow because of the animal’s vulnerability to illness and the nutritional, physiological, and social changes that occur around the time of calving.

However, due of the need to carefully watch the animal for post-calving examinations and treatment of health concerns, dairy cows in the transition phase are more prone to extended headlock periods. As a result, transition cow stressors should be reduced, and lock-up management procedures should be constantly monitored for the effects on the transition cow’s time budget and cow comfort.

What is the ideal timing for head lock-up?

The head lock-up time studies fall short of identifying the required period without causing health and productivity issues. Several studies have shown that keeping cows in self-locking head stanchions for a lengthy amount of time (>4 hours per day) may have a negative impact on dairy cow performance. The emphasis should be on properly managing the farm by limiting restraint time to less than 4 hours per day and avoiding the use of headlocks during the late morning and afternoon hours of the warmer months.

Mitch Theurer and Mike Brad, dairy consultants affiliated with the Standard Nutrition Company, recommended the following lock-up periods in their research concentrating on issues that restrict cows’ time budget:

Lock-up periods should be kept to a maximum of two hours.
Schedule lockup periods to correspond with feedings and urge cows to the bunk, rather than setting the locks 3 hours before the event.
During lock-up, always have enough of fresh feed on hand.
Researchers proposed future study effort to focus on the impact of varied lock-up periods on the health and productivity of dairy cows in order to better appropriate lock-up time.

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