Cows need to lie down on the job

If your milk production is down, maybe it’s because your cows aren’t lying down on the job.
Researchers at the University of Guelph have found dairy cows may not spend as much time lying in their stalls as previously thought. And that could be significant because the amount of time a cow spends lying down is believed to be an indication of well-being, which aids productivity.
When a cow is lying down, chances are she’s also ruminating, or breaking down feed consumed earlier. Rumination generates saliva, which produces sodium bicarbonate—essential for buffering the rumen against acidosis.
The more time a cow spends lying down, the more she ruminates and, presumably, the more productive she becomes. In fact, cows spend more time ruminating feed than they do actually eating it.
Unit now, it was thought high-producing cows can spend as much as 14 hours a day lying down and ruminating. However, the study discovered animals spent only 10-11.5 hours lying down.
Producers may overestimate the time cows spend lying down because they do not monitor them around the clock.
The University of Guelph study corrected that. Researchers took a dozen Holstein cows in individual tie stalls, randomly divided them into groups, and fed them the same amount of total mixed ration two-three times a day over two three-week periods.
They also continuously videotaped the animals, as well as observing them visually, for time spent in various activities: eating, ruminating, drinking, lying down, and being idle or absent from the barn.
Researchers found feeding frequency (two versus three times a day) made no difference in behaviour, feed consumption, or milk production. But they did learn that cows spent less time lying down than expected. Exactly why isn’t quite clear.
Cow comfort may have been a factor. Although the tie stalls had mattresses, the research barn was built in 1969 and the stalls may have been too tight for the animals.
Dairy cows are larger than they were 30 years ago, and they may have required more space for lying down and standing up than was available.
Cows that are comfortable tend to produce better. Stalls with mattresses or ample bedding prevent cows from scraping against the concrete floor and getting sore hocks.
This keeps them from worrying about feeling pain when they lie down. An uncomfortable animal will spend more time standing without eating.
Researchers surmise that, if comfort and stall space were improved, cows would spend less time idle and more time eating or lying and ruminating.
Recent research concludes the total length of a cow stall should be 118 inches. The cows in the University of Guelph study were housed in stalls 70 inches long and 48 inches wide, with a lunge space of 27.5 inches.
Even when cows are lying down, producers may feel they are not eating enough and insist they get up to feed. However, cows know best about when they should be eating and when they should be ruminating.
If the cow is lying down, let her.

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