April 16 2014 06:29 AM

    Research shows similar challenges for small and large dairies.

    "Farm size is a lightning rod for criticism in agriculture," said Dan Weary as he spoke to those attending the April 14 Hoard's Dairyman webinar, "Cow welfare and farm size – challenges and opportunities".

    April webinar slide slide Weary showed the audience an image of the University of British Columbia freestall barn. He pointed out the abundance of light, large deep-bedded stalls and the ability of cows to move freely. In contrast, tie-stall barns often are darker, have air quality issues and stall dimension challenges. However, not all problems are solved with freestalls, reminding us that any stall needs to be deep bedded to limit abrasions or injuries, noted Weary who is associate dean, professor and researcher at UBC.

    A portion of Weary's research focused on lameness on farms in Canada, California, New York and New England. When lameness data was charted by farm size, a few things became apparent. Both large and small farms can have lameness issues, and the amount of lameness is not impacted by farm size.

    Another facet of his studies looked at the interaction between people and cows – how comfortable are cows with their handlers? Are cows more willing to approach people in small farm settings versus large? Findings showed that "approachability was totally unaffected by farm size," said Weary. The key component here . . . the people. Large or small, the human connection determines their comfort level.

    Larger farms have more rapidly adopted technology. They're more likely to test colostrum levels and deliver it sooner. Larger operations allow for specialized staff that focus on specific responsibilities. They're also more likely to have formalized training, written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and performance incentives.

    "That is not to say smaller farms cannot utilize these same items, it's just that they are more common with larger farms," remarked Weary.

    Even new practices that are extremely beneficial need to be practical. Weary stated, "A practical application needs to work well for both animals and people." For example, access to pasture is a benefit, but some farms just don't have the logistics to make it happen. Others may fear that with access to pasture cows would pass by high-energy feed (and, therefore, production) for lush grass, but Weary's research disproves that theory. Cows fed a total mixed ration and given pasture access didn't lower their dry matter intake by choosing grass over their TMR; total intake remained the same. However, cows preferred pasture at night and chose to stay indoors during the day.

    His animal care for all farms included:
    • Use technology to provide data to aid in decision-making
    • Provide professional management (write down practices so activities are consistent; share with others)
    • Focus on practical applications
    • Keep cow welfare risks low by providing a clean, safe and comfortable environment
    This April webinar is archived and available for viewing. Past webinars can be found at www.hoards.com/webinars.

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    The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.