Sometimes, it seems as if there isn’t enough time in a day to get everything done that a person wants to. Although a dairy cow’s schedule may be much simpler than a human’s, time can still be a limiting factor in maximizing productivity.
Margaret Quaassdorff, a dairy specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, talked about the daily time budget of a dairy cow during a “Dialing into your best dairy” podcast. The typical time budget she shared for a cow in a freestall environment included:
- 5 hours eating
- 12 to 14 hours resting
- 2 to 3 hours standing, walking around, and grooming
- 0.5 hour drinking
That leaves just 2.5 to 3 hours for milking and other maintenance activities, such as breeding or hoof trimming. Often, these tasks can take longer than we realize and cut into resting and eating time. Quaassdorff said, “When they add up, they can definitely take away from a cow’s time to be as productive and efficient as she can be.”
Quaassdorff listed several instances on the farm that can create excessive time out of the pen.
- Long waiting times — Standing too long in the holding area or waiting in return alleys a long time before being released back into the pen can be detrimental.
- Too much time in headlocks — Cows locked in headlocks for more than an hour (during a veterinary check, for example) have less time for rest.
- Social disruptions in the pen (often a problem in transition cow housing) — “When we regroup cows too often, we are asking them to establish a social pecking order again, and it takes up valuable time,” she said.
- Uncomfortable stalls — If it takes a cow a while to find a comfortable place to lie down, or there are not enough stalls to lie down, Quaassdorff said the cow might not rest as long as it should.
- Inadequate feed availability — If feed is not pushed up and ready when a cow wants it, that cuts into eating time and takes away from resting time, Quaassdorff explained.
- Inadequate heat abatement — Hot cows spend more time standing around, which reduces resting time, Quaassdorff noted.
- Social stress for younger cows — If first-lactation cows and mature animals are housed in the same pen, Quaassdorff said those younger animals spend more time figuring out the social hierarchy and avoiding older cows.
“Think about your own farm and decide where you can make small changes that might make a big difference to your cows,” Quaassdorff said. “Hopefully, you’ll see a positive milk response when you change your management strategy to allow for appropriate resting time.”
One way or another, cows will try to get the rest they need, and that could affect their overall productivity. Quaassdorff emphasized that cows will choose resting time over anything else. “If the cow needs to choose between resting and eating, she will choose resting, which could affect milk production because she’s not eating enough,” Quaassdorff said.