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Should You Be Preparing For Winter Housing?

 Cow Signals | Mole Valley Farmers

Cow Signals: Preparing for Winter Housing


Margins are tight at present, so every element of investment on the farm needs careful consideration, but the return from some of these areas if they are restricting the cow’s potential can be sizeable.


Cows always tell the truth. We just need to pick up on the signals they are giving us, and in this case it is looking for the signals relating to housing.

Resting time to yield


If we get the cow’s environment right, she will be more confident, comfortable and productive. An improvement in this area will usually give her more lying time and with that, more yield. This improvement comes mainly from an increase in blood flow to the udder. We also get her off those feet for a while longer and she is also out of the way of other animals. Three easy, but big wins for a longer life.



Here is a graph showing the relationship between lying time and yield.
Milk Yield vs. Resting Time
(Source: Grant, 2003)

Waiting cows – signals that something is not as it should be.


A waiting cow is a cow that hangs around somewhere and not doing what she is supposed to do. So monitor every cow that is not eating, drinking, resting, chewing, socialising or being milked.


Look around for cows standing in beds, alleys and collecting yards and ask yourself: why would they do that? Cows don’t have time to wait. They are very busy… six hours eating, fourteen hours resting (of which ten hours is assigned to chewing their cud), two hours socialising (seeing who is the boss, being in heat, grooming etc). So there are only two hours per day left for milking. Do cows have neck rubs, hock damage, bumps, lumps and knocks? If so, then there is a restriction in place that needs attention.


Preparation for winter


Take a moment to look at the housing ready for winter season. Here are a few areas to consider as a starting point:

  • Feed: Are the barriers in the correct position (do we see neck rubs on the cows)? If not, can they be repositioned? How smooth is the food table surface, cows love a smooth surface to eat from?
  • Water: Ensure drinkers are cleaned regularly or repair if necessary.
  • Light: Ensure buildings are lit with the correct lux. If necessary, clean the lights if they are dirty and ensure broken bulbs are replaced.
  • Rest: Do cows lie down within one minute of entering a cubicle, or do they ‘wait’ and stand up for too long? It could be one of a few factors, so investigate if the neck rails are in the wrong position (do they need raising?); is the brisket locator the wrong shape or in the wrong place? Is the bed correct or is it too hard, lumpy or wet?
  • Some customers have found by experimenting with a short row of cubicles what needs changing. Once the changes have been made, the cows are observed in those cubicles for a couple of days to check for a positive response before applying this to the remaining cubicles.
  • Space: Check for any damaged, uneven floors. Also check for any sharp obtrusions on corners, or look for evidence of cows hitting metal (shiny metal is not a good signal, we want shiny cows). Are the floors slippery in winter (do they need grooving?)
  • Air: Is the air as fresh inside as out? This area usually takes a bit more thinking about, but we have access to specialists who can help advise.


If you would like more information or support in this area, the team can help as we have certified Cow Signals trainers. Speak to your local Ruminant Nutritionist for more information or call Rachel Smithyman on 07967 309162. 

Source Details

 628 Mole Valley Farmers Newsletter

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