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0608 PD: How many hours do your cows need in their day?

Chuck Schwartau Published on 14 April 2008

At recent dairy production workshops sponsored by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Dr. Joe Harner, Kansas State University, offered Minnesota dairy producers a look at how high- producing cows spend their time.

Producers were surprised at how much time cows spend at various activities in their daily lives and how space and group sizes can influence cows’ ability to optimize production.

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In the barn, cows control the time they spend eating, drinking, resting and socializing. The dairy producer can control milking time, time for vet work and the walking/travel time between the stalls and parlor. Combined, all these activities make up the cow’s time budget in a day.

If the cow spends too much time in the parlor, traveling or is kept away from feed, water and her stall too long, she will not have adequate rest time to produce the milk she is capable of giving.

Kansas State’s work suggests targeting 12 hours of resting time in the stall per day. Every hour under 12 will cost 2 pounds of milk per cow per day and every hour over 12 should offer 2 pounds more milk. Studies revealed the top 10 percent of cows in a herd spend about 2 hours more per day resting than the balance of the herd.

Harner offered these take-home messages:

• Three time per day milking needs to have the parlor and groups matched so the cows spend less than 1 hour per milking at the holding pen and parlor;
• For two time per day milking, target no more than 75 minutes for a cow to be away from her pen;
• Overstocking by more than 10-15 percent will likely result in cows that are short of resting time and start to cause problems;
• Three-row pens and three time a day milking will probably not mix. The cows don’t get enough eating and resting time;
• In three-row barns (pens), stock to 100 percent based on the freestall spaces available;
• In two-row barns (pens), stock to 100 percent based on the feeding spaces available.

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The bottom line is that if your barns are overcrowded, there aren’t enough hours in the day to meet their needs and it is costing you money. PD

Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator

Chuck Schwartau for Progressive Dairyman

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