Independent vet and lameness expert, Dr Nick Bell believes lying time information collected by automated recording technology has huge scope to benefit management on farm. “I think it’s been a key performance indicator we’ve been needing to measure and quantify, that has been very difficult to do up until this point. Lying time measurements allow you to spot day-to-day factors that are influencing cow time budgets. You can start to identify reasons for compromised lying time and make management changes,” he says. Lying times in particular can give a good indication of how well a shed is performing. For example, heat stress is linked to reduced lying times, as cows stand to dissipate heat.
According to Nick, the fact automated systems can quantify lying times is a huge benefit as it enables farmers to “chase a number”. He believes herd average lying times are useful, with 12 hours often cited as a target. However more important is the distribution of lying times within a herd – specifically how many are lying in the optimum 10-14 hour period. Cows lying for longer than this could be an indication of lameness or ill health. His own research with the CowAlert system has highlighted that fresh cows and heifers are the most “at risk” groups for suboptimal lying times.
Bullying from older cows can lead to reduced lying times, whilst a lack of training to cubicles can cause cubicle rejection. Nick has found that the automated system can flag up some cubicle rejections, which may be missed by a stockman. On some farms, heifer lying times have been as low as three hours a day.
As well as the basics of good cubicle design, space and comfort, Nick suggests the following to maximise lying times:
• Running a separate heifer group if facilities allow
• Training heifers to cubicles in advance of calving
• Ensuring heifers are big enough to cope within the milking herd (but still 23-24 months at calving).
Lying times have been shown to naturally reduce in fresh calved cows, however the key is to minimise this drop to protect these animals from developing foot and health problems later in lactation.
• Run a fresh cow group for 3-4 weeks post calving
• Maximise comfort through good bedding and cubicle design
• Minimise stocking rates at the feed barrier
• Ensure good cooling and ventilation in sheds
Maximising lying times also has the potential to significantly reduce lameness. “If you can start to understand factors affecting standing times, you can go a long way to sorting lameness,” stresses Nick.