What you need to know:
- Excessive contact between the cow and the cubicle divider or a ‘spillover’ of the cow’s body to the next cubicle is a clear sign of a squeezed pen.
Rest is one of the cornerstones of cow comfort that directly impact on its well-being. Studies indicate that a cow takes 12-14 hours to rest, in between feeding and much of this time is spent lying down. This article focuses on cow comfort in the sleeping cubicles, pens and stalls of a cow barn.
A properly designed and managed cubicle in a cow barn guarantees comfortable resting area. The sound design allows the cow to enter the cubicle, have enough space to rest, rise and exit with ease.
On the flipside, a poorly designed and mismanaged cubicle or pen can result in abrasions in the cow’s knees, hocks and flanks, injuries, lameness, mastitis and shorter lying periods. Ideally, squeezed and short as well as wet and muddy cubicles are common characteristics in many typical smallholder dairy farms under intensive zero-grazing or semi-intensive production system despite the many technical trainings farmers have received.
Excessive contact between the cow and the cubicle divider or a ‘spillover’ of the cow’s body to the next cubicle is a clear sign of a squeezed pen. Short cubicles are characterised by the cow’s rear end hanging over the edge and/or the cow standing or lying diagonally in the cubicle. It is also advisable to have the construction materials round and smooth to avoid injuries.
In summary, the size or space within a cubicle must correspond to the body size of the cattle, determined by breed variations and age. For example, narrow cubicles will discourage bigger cows from lying in them. It is for this reason that some farms with enough resources have opted for adjustable cubicle dividers. Most farms, however, embrace 4 by 7 feet as a resting space before adjusting to suitable dimensions.
Many dairy farms use either organic or inorganic bedding materials in the cubicle floors. Materials like sawdust, wood shavings and straws are associated with buildup of bacteria with time, exposing the cow’s teat ends to mastitis pathogens. Some farmers prefer cow mattresses or sand. The latter is seen as a better option in that it mimics the natural bedding for a cow, that is, the ground. Of principle is that the surfaces of the rest area should be clean, easily maintained, well-drained with soft and dry bedding material for comfort.
As a farmer if you are struggling to offer a comfortable environment in the cubicle, it is better to change your management practices. Since cows should be lying down for long in a day, the best bedding should be provided and managed appropriately. Sand is one of the best beddings.
However, use the right sand. Some sand can have too small or too big particles. Smaller particles get stuck together and cake when accidentally exposed to cow urine. Too large particles can increase the risk of cows becoming too uncomfortable to lie on. Good sand particles are easy to keep loose as long as possible.
Spread the sand around the entire cubicle: This is the most difficult part for many farmers although it is critical as it keeps the cow clean and it remains comfortable. When cows lie down and rise in the cubicles, they usually throw out a lot of sand. This can create piles on the sides and under the head swing space, which can hold moisture. It is good to have a pile of sand near the barn to keep re-filling and spreading evenly.
Disinfect the beds: You have probably seen barns infected by fleas coming from roaming chickens or dogs. Fleas, and other insects or parasites, can cause irritation and discomfort to the cow. Spray such beds with the right chemical, disinfect appropriately or change the whole bedding material.
Keep the bedding groomed/tidy: Just like cow mattresses, sand bedding needs to be cleaned. Remove accidentally dropped manure and urine out of the bed regularly. Pick out materials like nails and small pieces of metals which are common in sand. Crash caked sand when they form and where the bedding is wet due to rain, the cubicle should be given time to dry or bedding removed and replaced with fresh dry sand.