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A Practical Retrofit to Improve Cow Comfort

Jackson Wright, Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

March 1, 2013
A Practical Retrofit to Improve Cow Comfort

One resource that is often overlooked is rest or lying time. To maximize production dairy cows require at least 12 hour a day of lying time. Lying increases blood flow through to the mammary gland which is associated with increased milk yield. In addition, inadequate rest is associated with increased lameness which greatly decreases production efficiency. Three key factors that influence lying time are stall design, lameness, and bedding. Many publications have general recommendations for stall width, length, and neck rail height; however the lying surface may have a greater impact on increasing lying times. Many producers are aware that sand bedded stalls improve lying times; however they may not have the will or capacity to deal with sand as a bedding source. What you may not realize is that lying times can be improved on mattresses if excessive bedding is used. Unfortunately, the amount of bedding required to increase lying times is in excess of 16 pounds of bedding per stall. Using this amount of bedding in a traditional mattress stall would be expensive over time. To overcome this some producers have tried using PVC piping as bedding savers with marginal success. A more successful alternative would be retrofitting a 4x6 piece of lumber, similar to a railroad tie, to the back of the existing stall bed. This can be done by drilling two holes through the lumber and attaching it to the concrete base with rebar. As long as the step up into the stall is less than 16 inches cows seem to have no problem getting in and out of the stalls. It also helps if both edges of the lumber are rounded to facilitate entering and exiting of the stall. Moreover this retrofit allows for each stall to maintain 6 inches of bedding material, creating a deep bedded pack that can improve lying times. In addition, the 4x6 piece of lumber acts as a bedding saver reducing the amount of bedding needed once the stalls have been filled. Fresh bedding can be added to the front of the stalls and gradually worked towards the rear of the stall, providing cows with a large amount of cushioning around their knees when lying down. This also maximizes the use out of the bedding as the rear of the stall is more likely to be soiled. The other benefit is that because this retrofit can be done quickly and cheaply, meaning it can be a temporary solution prior to a larger renovation or it can be maintained on a more permanent basis. Moreover, this retrofit can be successful with multiple bedding sources including sawdust, Syracuse fiber, or even sand which provides flexibility for producers to source different bedding in the future.

On a recent case study stalls were retrofitted in the manner described. The retrofitted stalls were both too narrow and too short for their cows. The farm retrofitted a small section of stalls to determine if the cows actually preferred the retrofitted stalls. Within a week to cows showed a preference for the retrofitted stalls, with all the retrofitted stalls being used and cows lying down. The farm is now retrofitting all the remaining stalls. The improved lying times should result in an increase in milk production. This may be something to consider if cow comfort presents a challenge on your farm.











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Dairy Cattle Summer Research Update

July 18, 2019
Batavia, NY

After the day's work is done, come hear about two new research trials conducted by Julio Giordano's lab:
  • Strategies for improving dairy cattle reproductive performance and economics
  • Using automated sensors for improving dairy cattle health monitoring and management

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Weed Resistance Management Demonstration and Plot Tour

Event Offers DEC Credits

July 23, 2019
1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Waterloo, NY

Come join us on July 23 in Seneca County at Quinten Good's farm for a demonstration and walking tour of 16 different pre- and post-emergence treatments in soybean and 12 different treatments and combinations in corn.
  • Tall waterhemp and marestail are two weeds that are resistant to glyphosate and ALS herbicide modes of action in the WNY and Finger Lakes regions.
  • Each year the number of acres with resistant weed populations expands.
  • For herbicides to be an effective tool in weed management, we have to know what chemistries & application timings are most effective against these resistant weeds.

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Income and Real Property Tax Primer-A Learning Circle for Women Non-Operating Land Owners of Ag Land

July 24, 2019
9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Portageville, NY

For many of us taxes can be a mystery, let's have a conversation with the experts about the tax considerations agricultural landowners need to think about. 
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RMA Announces Additional One-time Changes to Prevented Planting Provisions

June 29, 2019

RMA Announces Additional One-time Changes to Prevented Planting Provisions
for 2019 Crop Year

In response to delayed and prevented planting resulting from above average rainfall and wetness, the USDA Risk Management Agency has made a one-time change to the 2019 crop year prevented planting rules that effectively allows silage corn, if planted as a cover crop following local agricultural expert guidelines, to be acceptable as a post-prevented planting cover crop. Under this one-time rule change, producers are allowed to produce this crop while retaining their prevented planting payment. This change couples with previously announced one-time changes to the prevented planting rules - including expanded acceptable uses for post-prevented planting cover crops and a change in the cover crop haying and grazing start date rule - serve to help those struggling to meet their forage needs due to the weather.

Read the full article from the New York Crop Insurance Education Program.

The USDA-RMA states that "For crop insurance purposes, a cover crop is a crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement." PRO-DAIRY specialists Joe Lawrence and Karl Czymmek and Dr. Quirine Ketterings, Professor and Director of Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program have released a letter stating "Corn on Prevented Planting acres meets these objectives."

USDA Announces New Decision Tool for New Dairy Margin Coverage Program

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2019 ? Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced today the availability of a new web-based tool - developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin - to help dairy producers evaluate various scenarios using different coverage levels through the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized
DMC, a voluntary risk management program that offers financial protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. It replaces the program previously known as the Margin Protection Program for Dairy. Sign up for this USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) program opens on June 17.

"With sign-up for the
DMC program just weeks away, we encourage producers to use this new support tool to help make decisions on participation in the program," Secretary Perdue said. "Dairy producers have faced tough challenges over the years, but the DMC program should help producers better weather the ups and downs in the industry."

The University of Wisconsin launched the decision support tool in cooperation with FSA and funded through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Office of the Chief Economist. The tool was designed to help producers determine the level of coverage under a variety of conditions that will provide them with the strongest financial safety net. It allows farmers to simplify their coverage level selection by combining operation data and other key variables to calculate coverage needs based on price projections.

The decision tool assists producers with calculating total premiums costs and administrative fees associated with participation in
DMC. It also forecasts payments that will be made during the coverage year.

The new Dairy Margin Coverage program offers very appealing options for all dairy farmers to reduce their net income risk due to volatility in milk or feed prices," said Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Higher coverage levels, monthly payments, and more flexible production coverage options are especially helpful for the sizable majority of farms who can cover much of their milk production with the new five million pound maximum for Tier 1 premiums. This program deserves the careful consideration of all dairy farmers."

For more information, access the tool at For
DMC sign up, eligibility and related program information, visit or contact your local USDA Service Center. To locate your local FSA office, visit

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1