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Creating a Cow-Centered Housing System

Posted: August 25, 2011

Discussion on the various elements of cow-centered housing

What is the center of your dairy farm business? What do you measure your decisions against? If you are making your living from the dairy cow then she should be central to a lot of your decisions. A cow-centered housing system starts with a cow-centered owner, managers and workers. While each has responsibilities and concerns that include more than the cow, they must be rooted in the firm foundation of “what’s good for the cow is good for the dairy!”

Cows are friendly, gregarious critters so they like their system to be friendly for them and allow them to be friendly with each other. But they also like to have their own personal space and time. A modern dairy facility requires quality design, construction and ultimately management to provide a cow-centered living space. It also should be friendly to workers, visitors, neighbors and surrounding air, water and soil resources.

A cow-centered facility will provide a great living and working space for the cows, including:

  • Fresh, clean dry air and lots of it
  • Plenty of high-quality resting space
  • Comfortable walking and standing surfaces
  • Easily accessible fresh feed and water
  • Comfortable milking facilities and procedures
  • Quality, safe and comfortable areas for special needs, such as health care, calving, examination, recuperation, breeding

Housing systems in Pennsylvania are often defined by their resting spaces: tie stall, freestall or bedded pack. Regardless of housing type was it designed and built and is it now managed with the cow’s interests and desires in mind? Is the resting area clean and dry and comfortable for the cow to enter, recline, reposition her body and stand up in?

Barns may be naturally or mechanically ventilated. Both systems are effective when designed and applied in an appropriate manner. The test is simple. Is the air always fresh and dry and during hot weather does in provide a noticeable air flow over the cow’s body to help in heat removal?

Do walking and standing surfaces provide comfortable confident footing for moving around grooming and socializing? Are the feeding and watering areas adequate for the number of cows and provide a comfortable place to consume fresh quality feed and water?

- By Dr. Robert Graves, professor, Penn State Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering