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Is your holding area a big profit robber year-round?

Brent Hershey for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 November 2016

Just because it is sweatshirt weather doesn’t mean heat stress has passed us by. Holding areas can continue to trap heat and stale air long after the outside temperature begins to drop.

Producers are turning to more aggressive systems and automation to save labor costs and time in order to provide an environment that adapts to the cows’ needs at any time of the day or night.



There are very few dairy farms that have adequate ventilation and cooling in their holding areas. Take a look at some of the problems in holding areas and options for keeping cows comfortable year-round.

The worst part of a cow’s day

Two or three times a day, cows are moved out of the freestall barn with feed, water and a roomy stall to be bunched together in the holding area, where they stand and wait to be milked. Crowded cows can easily cause temperatures to jump 20ºF quickly, turning the air stale and steamy. Worse yet, these areas often have low ceilings and solid sidewalls that trap in heat.

Compromised air quality causes immense problems and, at its worst, can suffocate cows.

For a better understanding of what your cows go through multiple times a day, it is important to experience it for yourself. Walk along with your cows, stand in the middle of your holding area and see if you can stand there for 10 minutes without becoming uncomfortable.

Carry a temperature probe along with you and record temperatures. No doubt you will be surprised at the rising temperatures in the holding area.


A study performed on a holding area with vulvar implants showed a 2 to 3ºF core body temperature spike every time cows were grouped in a holding area. The spike lasted approximately 90 minutes after they left the milking parlor. This happened three times a day, resulting in continual and systematic heat stress on the cows.

Research shows this stress causes serious problems including pregnancy loss, reduced milk production and respiratory problems – all caused by unnecessary heat stress on the cows.

A year-round challenge

We typically think of ventilation and cooling for the summer months. But holding areas need a 12-month system to address ventilation and cooling needs. For example, on Dec. 24, 2015, the high temperature in central Pennsylvania was 68ºF. Holding area temperatures typically are 20ºF higher, making the Dec. 24 holding area temperature easily 88ºF with stuffy, poor air quality conditions.

Tracking temperature levels in the transitional spring and fall months reveals many days with a 35º to 40ºF swing during a single 24-hour period.

The result of these temperature swings without proper ventilation and cooling systems is once again potential pregnancy loss, reduced milk production and respiratory problems. These types of temperature swings can impact production year round, demonstrating the need for ventilation and cooling systems throughout the seasons.

An investment that pays

For these reasons, holding areas are the top priority for aggressive ventilation and cooling systems to be installed and utilized. Money spent here is a smart investment and easily recouped in a few weeks to a few short months due to the increase in production.


Every cow on the farm benefits from improvements in the holding area. Some barns have large sprinklers to drench the cows with water during their time in the holding area. While this has improved the state of the cows in extreme temperatures, problems persist with these high-water-usage systems:

  • Cows resist entering holding areas when the sprinkler system is on. The water gets in their ears, resulting in discomfort.

  • Wet cows have water running down their sides and onto their udders, transferring dirt and bacteria.

  • Excessive water runs down the parlor floor, adding to the waste stream of the farm.

System design is key

Seek professional help in designing a proper system for your holding area. There are plenty of specialists in the industry who are able to guide you in determining the correct number and layout of fans and also to direct you to proper controller mechanisms to operate your system.

Quality system design is the starting point to a solution that works. Here are some components to consider:

Usually, the first place to evaluate is the structure itself. A holding area must be able to breathe; thus solid walls need to be opened up and you should consider raising ceilings if possible.

Adding insulation under the roof to stop radiant heat is something else to consider when working toward a more comfortable holding area. A hot roof can work like an oven broiler on the cows, easily adding 5 to 10ºF.

Add fans that exchange high volumes of air and have high-speed velocity to force air in between the cows. Use only high-quality fans with energy-efficient motors. New variable-speed/high-speed fans can reach even higher airspeeds, up to 30 to 35 mph.

A basket fan does not get the job done properly. In fact, generally speaking, the swine and poultry industries no longer use basket fans due to their inefficiency.

Water cooling
Water cooling in the holding area is also essential. Consider adding water in several stages. New water systems are able to add just enough water to cool cows without making them excessively wet, thus opening the door to using water at lower temperatures and, more often, efficient water cooling also cuts down on water usage and costs. Save soakers and higher water amounts for emergency cooling in life-threatening heat events.

There are automated controllers on the market that monitor the holding area systems and adjust the amount of air and water to fit the daily needs of the cows, keeping them comfortable at all times.

Automation systems take all the guesswork out of holding area cooling, ensure systems are operating every milking of every day and provide peace of mind that your cows are protected.

Positive results

Nearly every time a properly designed holding area system is installed and utilized, average daily milk production and conception rates are improved. Many times, the return on investment is realized in as little as 30 to 90 days, making a holding area system upgrade a must, regardless of milk prices.

Remember, investing in your core business and focusing on production and efficiency is always smart and will keep your business on track and pressing toward long-term goals.

In these tough economic times, focusing on the highest profit robbers is key and, in turn, will help safeguard your dairy for the future. Every cow benefits from a properly designed and always-working holding area system.  end mark

Brent Hershey is with Hershey Ag a distributor for CowKühlerZ. Email Brent Hershey.