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Vermont farm eliminates boss cow bullying at feedbunk

Dean Throndsen Published on 20 May 2015

feed rail system

Feeding time can cause a host of unique stressors to cows as they compete for space at the feedbunk and navigate their position in the herd’s social hierarchy.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a producer in Vermont who has adopted a feed rail system that virtually eliminates the competition and stress found around the forage.

Dwayne Lanphear of L&L Farms Inc. in Morrisville, Vermont, built a new facility in 2014 that is 100-percent focused on cow comfort. In addition to state-of-the-art comfort technologies, Lanphear also decided to adopt a new practice using old technology to make the process of feeding comfortable for the cows as well.

Instead of traditional headlocks, L&L Farms installed a neck rail and short freestall loops along the length of the feedbunk.

“I saw this practice at a barn in Pennsylvania,” Dwayne says. “I just watched and watched. I soon realized that the cows were not stressed. They weren’t being pushed. They all had equal access to feed and were calm the entire time.”

When I visited the farm a few months ago, I had the same reaction. I stood in that barn for an hour and watched the cows.

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There were cows that never moved from the rail. They would gather the feed, stand comfortably, chew, look around and repeat the process.

Never once was a cow shoved or pushed. It was remarkable. When she had her fill, she would drink and lie down.

“The design makes it so the alley scrapers don’t disturb them and another cow can’t disturb them. It’s their own space as long as they want to eat,” Lanphear says.

The design includes a 5-inch platform, measuring 5.5 feet from head to tail, that the cows step up on into the bunk. The loops are spaced 30 inches apart. The loops are shorter than regular freestall loops, approximately 36 inches long, and the feed wall is 24 inches high.

Lanphear reports that the 5.5-foot platform ensures that nearly 100 percent of the manure goes into the alley and the neck rail is comfortable. Because the cows aren’t being bossed, they have no problems with cows stepping over the feed wall.

“Sure, it cost more to do it this way because you’re doing the platform plus the loops, but it was worth it,” he says. “It was designed to eliminate the boss cow factor, and I really like that they don’t have to step over the alley scraper while eating.”

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Many producers might think they need the headlocks for herd health checks, but there are other ways to perform herd health checks. Providing an environment in which the cow is at maximum comfort while she eats seems to be a positive addition to farm management practices overall.

This innovation is just one example of how L&L Farms invested in cow comfort. When the barn was being designed, Lanphear toured other facilities to create what he believes is the most possible comfort for his herd.

L&L Farms milks around 120 cows with two robotic milking units. The freestall barn is outfitted with waterbeds, 18 52-inch fans for a tunnel ventilation effect, two cow brushes, automatic scrapers, and the entire flooring surface, including the feedbunk platform, is covered in rubber.

Creating a cutting-edge system can be a hefty investment, but from the bedding to the milking and to the feeding, it is all centered on cow comfort.

“So you ask – is it really more expense? Probably not overall, because the cows pay you back,” Lanphear says. PD

Dean Throndsen is president and CEO of Advanced Comfort Technology Inc., the worldwide distributor of DCC Waterbeds. Throndsen has more than 40 years of experience in dairy and has been in thousands of dairy barns on three continents. From his experience, he has learned to be patient with the cows, look carefully, don’t rush and listen closely. Email Dean Throndsen.

PHOTO: Photo provided by Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.

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