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3 tips to address bottlenecks in your dairy facility

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Emma Ohirko Published on 11 August 2020

Small tweaks to facilities can get a dairy operating at its full potential, with cow well-being and comfort at the forefront. However, there are some common bottlenecks that can interfere with achieving success.

John Tyson and Dan MacFarland, agricultural engineers and educators, touched on three main areas where holdups can occur in dairy facilities during their webinar “Finding and Addressing Dairy Facility Bottlenecks” for the Pennsylvania State University series Technology Tuesdays, which aired on April 14.



1. Air quality and ventilation

To ensure cow well-being, the levels of moisture, gases, pollutants and the temperature of the barn should be controlled. Cows need good air exchange that adjusts with the seasons. As McFarland explained, “If [the barn] doesn’t smell like fresh feed and bedding, then something is probably wrong.” He stressed that the goal should be to pull fresh air into the barn and flush stale air out. Proper ventilation will help protect cows from weather extremes and match indoor air quality with that of the outdoors. This may require opening side walls to encourage air movement and distribution. To test air distribution, use this very simple bubble test: Blow bubbles and observe their path. If the bubbles blow by themselves out of the wand, air speed in the barn is about 5 mph. Bubbles are heavier than the air, so they will fall, but if straight movement is observed without the bubbles falling quickly, blowing backwards or swirling in circles, proper air distribution is occurring. 

2. Feed competition, dry matter intake and water

Anything that can get in the way of a cow maximizing dry matter consumption and water intake is a problem. Give cows every opportunity to consume both.


Make feed available to cows at least 21 hours a day. Keep the feeding area clean to encourage cows to eat more. Increase dry matter intake (DMI), and spread meals out over longer periods of time to aid in proper rumination. Further, consider adequate bunk space, feed table design, feed availability and access. Overstocking can lead to less feeding time and lower DMI. 

To encourage feeding, a cow’s natural feeding position should be emulated. This requires mindfulness of the cow’s feeding surface, feed barriers and reach. Frequent push-ups should also be maintained in the first few hours post-milking, as this drives cows to eat. 



Research shows that the relationship between milk production and water consumption is linear: Cows that drink more water produce more milk. Ensure water access, and keep the watering unit clean. In group housing, two water units should be available to each group of cows. Tyson drew on the advice of Jim Spain of the University of Missouri, citing his quote, “Cows should be within 50 feet of drinking water,” and took care to emphasize the importance of easy water access.

3. Comfort

Cows should rest for 10 to 14 hours per day to reach their milk production potential. Cows have a cyclical resting pattern. To observe this, sufficient viewing time of cow resting behavior must be taken. Indicators such as cow comfort index and stall use index are useful in determining if cows are resting enough, but they should not be used alone. For example, overcrowded barns may score well on these indices and can imitate the appearance of well-rested cows despite overcrowding. Instances of overcrowding result in increased idleness and aggression in cows.

The specifications of the stalls are important for cow comfort. The stall should be long enough to ensure that cows can lunge to allow for proper rise and recline. The neck rail position should not disrupt the natural eating position or lunge ability. Stalls should be sized for the largest cow in the group to provide comfort for the entire herd. Locomotion and lameness provide good indicators of stall acceptance and use.

Bedding should be changed and added in smaller intervals in order to discourage cow behavior changes based on the bedding fill amounts.

When it comes to floors, select a floor that reduces slipping and improves heat detection. Concrete floors should be resurfaced every three to six years, and rough, abrasive floors are to be removed. All floor surfaces should be cleaned regularly and kept as dry as possible.


Heat stress affects cow resting behavior, which, in part, accounts for why heat stress abatement is so critical. The key to heat stress abatement is prevention. Consider all factors: temperature, humidity, radiation and air speed. Reduce heat stress with shade, proper air exchange and access to water to drink and cool off.

Tyson and MacFarland discussed a variety of strategies to mitigate common dairy facility problems, although they may not all apply to all facilities. However, being mindful of facility management and cow behavior is at the core of each solution, and implementing these tips can be impactful in maximizing milk production.  end mark

Emma Ohirko
  • Emma Ohirko

  • Editorial Intern
  • Progressive Dairy
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