Dairy expansion not being matched to winter housing facilities

With the expansion of the dairy industry, housing facilities on some farms have come under pressure.

Many dairy farms have increased cow numbers, but have not matched their housing facilities to this increase. This has resulted in insufficient cubicle space, feeding space and overcrowding in yards and/or calf sheds.

However, what some farmers fail to realise is the impact that poor or inadequate housing facilities can have on their herd.

Some of these ‘pressure points on farms’ and their impacts were raised by Frank O’Sullivan – a Co. Meath based vet – during one of the Animal Health Ireland (AHI) / Teagasc CellCheck events.

One particular area which has come under pressure, since herd expansion, is the calving area. Overcrowding in this area, according to Frank, can lead to infections – because the bacteria grow and multiply as the area gets damp due to too many animals being housed in the one area.

“You should be able to go down on your knees in the calving box, stand up again and go straight to the disco,” joked Frank.

Since expansion, insufficient cubicle and/or feed space is another common sight on many dairy farms. The recommendation is to have one cubicle/cow on the farm and 2ft of feed space/cow.

This, Frank says, is having a particular effect on the younger cows in the herd causing them to come under stress.

“When animals are under stress the immune system drops and it is these animals which are going to become sick. They could then end up contracting things such as mastitis or IBR [infectious bovine rhinotracheitis],” said Frank.

Furthermore, inadequate housing facilities are likely to lead on to a whole list of problems; such as lameness, reduced body condition score (BCS) and pneumonia, to name a few – with these potentially having a knock-on effect on production, fertility and health.

Calf housing

Assistant professor, Dr. Eoin Ryan, also alluded to this issue at one of Alltech’s ‘Pathways to Profit’ seminars.

He said: “While there has been a lot of money spent on calf housing, sometimes it is catching up to increased calf numbers.”

Also, with improvements being made in terms of fertility, there has been an increase in the number of cows calving in a short space of time, putting greater pressure on calf housing.

This, Eoin says, has put pressure on housing facilities leading to increased incidences of diarrhea/scour amongst calves.

“Pneumonia is also a common issue on farms so it is very important that when you are investing in calf housing to consider aspects such as ventilation,” explained Eoin.

These are all things to take into consideration when getting sheds ready for the winter and calving period.