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Maximise the Longevity of Your Herd

 Cow Signals

Cow Signals

CowSignals Co Founder Joep Driessen suggests a stress free calving line that incorporates a specific "pamper pen” and "cuddle box” for freshly calved cows and calves is a must for every dairy farmer's looking to maximise the longevity of their herd.

According to globally renowned vet and CowSignals cofounder Joep Driessen, looking after cows and calves at this crucial stage will help double a cow's productive lifetime, reduce costs and environmental impact.
"In the UK, cows average 2.8 productive lactations compared to 3.4 in Holland. And the best farmers in Holland are achieving six productive years. The key to success is soft deep beds, a stress free calving line and one feed space per cow,” he said at a recent CowSignals team training day for Mole Valley Farmers at Duchy College.
He explained that the best farms housed cows and heifers on loose straw yards before and after calving. Animals were then moved smoothly along a literal line from the pre calving pen into the adjacent post calving pen to ensure minimal stress. Ideally these yards should cater for animals in the three weeks before and after calving and as a minimum 5-10 days before and three days after.
However, Joep said the most progressive farmers across the world were incorporating a "pamper pen” and cuddle box” into their calving line. This involved gating off a three by three metre area of the pre calving yard. As soon as a cow calved she would then be put in this "pamper pen”. The dam would then be given 20 litres of warm water immediately. The cow would then be put in a locking yoke in one corner of the pen with a gate swung round  to keep her in place. Her newborn calf would be placed on top of hay in a 160cm by 75cm "cuddle box” directly under the cow's nose on the other side of the yolk. Joep said the main objective was to get feed and water into the cow and ensure the calf received colostrum.
"If you get the cow eating straight after calving, you get the cow off to the right start by maximising dry matter intakes at this critical time. This means you help minimise the risk of ketosis or negative energy balance so she cleans up better - everything gets better,” Joep added.
Joep said the best way to drive cow intakes was to put the ration on or near the calf. She would then finish the ration after the calf was removed as it would smell of her calf. The cow could then be moved to the adjacent fresh cow pen. Having the cow in the locking yolk also enabled colostrum to be taken from the dam and fed to her calf immediately. This ensured the calf received exactly what it needed, which is not guaranteed when leaving it to suck naturally.
Joep commented: "Colostrum quality is highest in the first six hours after calving. The calf also loses 50% of the capacity to absorb colostrum within six hours so getting it into the calf quickly is crucial.”
CowSignals certified trainer and Mole Valley Farmers Head of Nutrition and Technical Services, Tom Hough said getting 10% of the calf's body weight in colostrum into the calf early would ultimately benefit health and performance as the calf would receive nutrients and immunoglobulins.
"In the UK, 8% of calves are born dead or die within 24 hours of birth. That's a huge waste. Getting colostrum right and minimising stress at calving is key to maximising heifer performance. It will help get her off to a good start so she is more likely to calve at 23 to 24 months, which is the most economical age to calve and also reduces environmental impact,” Tom said.
To achieve this, Tom said many farmers could easily adapt their loose calving pens by moving existing gates to create a "pamper pen” and "cuddle box”. In the long term this would benefit the cow and calf, ease management and save time as there would be less sick animals. Ultimately all of the steps were designed to meet the cow and calf's needs which is the backbone to the CowSignals concept. Tom recognised that many of the recommendations were simple, however, he said until every farmer did it right there was a need to communicate these messages.
"Mole Valley Farmers are investing in training the team in CowSignals to get the message across to as many farmers as possible. This will help boost cow health and longevity and ultimately farm profitability,” he said.

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Joep Driessen, cofounder of CowSiganls discusses maximising the longevity of a herd.

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