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Brush up on cow brush maintenance

Yves St-Onge for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 July 2017
Cow brushes

We all need a good back scratch every once in a while, and cows are no different. In their natural environment, cows will rub up against trees and bushes. Around the farm, they will use other objects like walls, water troughs and fences.

While using a makeshift back scratcher may satisfy their itch, the risk of injury to your animals and damage to your facilities only increases with use.



Advantages of cow brushes

Before you’re willing to spend your hard-earned money on a bovine beauty parlor, you might be asking yourself, “Are cow brushes really an adequate substitute for natural bushes and trees?” The answer: yes. And once you install them, you’ll immediately see the benefits.

There are several models and designs, from stationary to rotating and from rotating to swinging cow brushes. There are even swinging brushes for young animals now.

Here’s what to like about cow brushes:

Safer use

As mentioned above, providing your cows with a brush designed to withstand their strength and handle the wear and tear of daily use should give you some peace of mind that they won’t hurt themselves – or damage your property. Some swinging cow brushes operate at cow-friendly speeds and will automatically stop when resistance is sensed.


Healthy animals

Several studies have demonstrated cows with access to brushes which are properly utilized will have cleaner coats and are in better general condition. By removing dirt and debris, brushes allow cows to more effectively cool their bodies and put their energy into milk production.

Cows which groom with brushes also showed fewer signs of discomfort and itchiness. Furthermore, they aid animal well-being by offering “behavioral opportunities” to reduce stress naturally.

Amazingly, one brand of swinging cow brush also proved to reduce incidence of clinical mastitis by up to 34 percent.

Increased milk production

That same study also demonstrated second-lactation dairy cows with access to a swinging cow brush produced 3.5 percent (1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds) more milk a day.


These are only some of the positive impacts of cow brushes. It’s clear brushes contribute to cow comfort, which can extend the longevity of your animals. Just think: What if you could get one extra lactation per cow? What would this mean for your business?

Keeping cow brushes effective

Longevity isn’t about prolonging a cow’s life indefinitely; it’s about prolonging a cow’s productivity. A mature cow that doesn’t produce much milk will just cost time and money – time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

To prolong a cow’s productivity, farm conditions need to be optimized, and the right procedures need to be in place in order to deliver high milk yield while reducing the need of culling cows.

Cow brushes can help achieve this goal, but as much as brushes can positively benefit your business, they need to be properly maintained or their advantages will disappear over time.

Proper installation

Choosing where to mount your cow brushes is just as important as the purchase itself. I recommend installing swinging cow brushes in cross alleys or back areas so as to not disrupt traffic flow. Mapping out the location of mechanically operated brushes is also a key consideration when installing new power sources.

It’s also important to be aware of the number of brushes you’ll need to be able to satisfy your herd. Too few brushes could cause unwanted competition and stress, not to mention premature wear and tear of the brushes. I recommend maintaining a ratio of one brush for every 60 cows.

Replace brushes

Replacing cow bristles is a lot like replacing your toothbrush. A toothbrush gets used on a daily basis, just like a cow brush. On a toothbrush, the bristles become frayed and worn with use and the cleaning effectiveness will decrease – again, just like a cow brush.

A toothbrush can also wear faster depending on factors unique to each situation – also like a cow brush. For example, cows will abuse the brush, or there are too many cows for the brush, causing the bristles to wear prematurely.

Cow brush or toothbrush, the conclusion is the same: If you want to maintain the positive benefits you get from your brush, it needs to be monitored and replaced in time.

Scheduled maintenance and cleaning

Like your milking system, cow brushes – especially mechanical ones – require regular maintenance and cleaning. For instance, a swinging cow brush requires the brush cylinder be cleaned twice a year by first removing it from the motor drive. The brush cylinder, which the bristles are attached to, should be replaced once a year to maintain the brush’s performance.

There’s no debating the benefits of comfortable and happy cows. Scratch her back, and she will scratch yours.  end mark

PHOTO: When bristles become faded and worn (left), cleaning effectiveness decreases. In order to do its job properly, brushes need to be maintained and replaced before wearing out (right). Photo provided by DeLaval.

Yves St-Onge
  • Yves St-Onge

  • DeLaval Solution
  • Manager Aftermarket
  • Email Yves St-Onge