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American practices could aid Cumbrian farms
A REGIONAL dairy specialist is advocating a new approach to cattle bedding after returning from a week-long farming trip to Minnesota in the United States.
Garry Starkie, who covers Cumbria and Lancashire for Dugdale Nutrition, said the Americans widely used sand as bedding for dairy cattle, both on its own and over worn rubber cubicle mattresses.
“While we did see one traditional family dairy unit with just 100 cows, most of the farms we saw were large units with up to 3,000 dairy cows,” said Mr Starkie.
“What was particularly impressive was the attention to detail, including cow welfare and comfort.
“Sand was widely used for bedding cubicles. Also where mattresses had become worn, farmers raised the back stop to the cubicle floor by about 2-3 inches and covered the mats with sand. They kept the cover shallow as they found that if it was deeper the cows tended to dig into the sand.”
Dirty sand was scraped off and flushed with the muck into separation tanks. The used sand was sent away for washing or disposal and clean sand brought in each week for topping up the cubicles.
“The slurry portion was then stored in large lagoons,” said Mr Starkie. “It was accepted that the sand meant additional wear for machinery, but the farmers felt that cow comfort was more important.
“The cows in the large units are kept in all year round and what was noticeable was the quality of the ventilation systems.
“While it was hot outside, I found myself putting my jacket on inside the cattle building.
“In the US, there is a move to using shredded maize broken up into small pieces which make an excellent feed with ‘scratch’ which stimulates the cow’s digestive system.
“It was also noticeable that cows in these large units had free access to both sodium bicarbonate and rock salt – both important to their wellbeing but more often incorporated into feeds in the UK.
“The family-run 100 cow dairy unit was interesting, showing that there was still a place for well-run, smaller units. The cattle had high quality genetics and were producing high yields. One unusual thing here was the use of a conveyor belt to carry feed to the cows.
“Of course things were very different from the UK, but I did feel that there were a number of ideas that could have a place or be adapted for use here in the UK,” said Mr Starkie.
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