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What is Cow Comfort?

Cow comfort has become a buzzword in the dairy industry, but often it’s not really defined or even understood. So what is “Cow Comfort”?

Domestication of cows has made us as human caregivers responsible for their welfare. In exchange for housing, feed and good care, the cow provides milk and meat. Therefore, facility design and management should be based on animal physiology, animal behavior, animal needs, and animal welfare. Providing an environment that has cow comfort in mind really means that the environment is designed for the cow, not the worker. This does not mean the worker should be uncomfortable or unsafe while working, it just means that the cow is now the lead designer on the team. In the past the philosophy was often too much, “We will build what we want and then force the cow into it”.

Still the question remains “What is “Cow Comfort?” Simply stated, cow comfort is the minimizing of stress in the animal’s environment in order to maximize productive capability. Stress to the cow robs her of potential milk production and health that we have gained through breeding programs and better nutrition. A cow should be eating, drinking, lying down making milk, or being milked.

Cow comfort is also very much a management decision and mindset that requires dedication to be achieved. Simply saying we will design facilities with cow comfort in mind is not enough. While good management can improve poor design, even great design can not make up for poor management.

Attention to detail plays a big role in cow comfort. While comfort issues can be large in scale often issues with cow comfort are related to small details in the environment. These details could be things as small as a sticky valve on a waterer, a dirty fan that is not providing the amount of air that it should, or a neck rail that is a few inches too low.

Where should you look for comfort problems? What you really need to ask is, “What is the most limiting resource to the cows?” There can be many limiting elements to any given housing system, but just like a chain the housing system is only as good as its weakest link. Start with the of basics, air, water, feed, and stalls. Doing a better job with the basics will move the production bar upward and give cows a better chance to fulfill their genetic potential.

Also, cow comfort is not just for the milking herd. You must also have good dry cow, calf, and heifers raising facilities and management. These animals are the economic future of the farm and should not be treated as second-class citizens.

While many cow comfort issues have to do with facility design, the management of these facilities is essential in achieving good cow comfort in the barn. Job descriptions and standard operating procedures need to be developed and carried out with the welfare of the cow in mind at all times. As a dairy industry we have a moral obligation to provide care, safety, and cow comfort to the animals in exchange for milk and meat.

Cows rest comfortably when they have ample room, reducing stress and injury. Photo credit John Tyson, Penn State Extension

Source: Penn State Extension

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