It’s now well accepted that housing can hugely impact on the productivity of our dairy cows. But sometimes we can overlook how much of an impact it can have on the health and productivity of our housed beef cows. Matt Hylands gives us five things to focus on…

Obviously not everyone can erect a new building with all the bells and whistles, but everyone should be able to take a step back, assess their current building and make small changes as required. There are a few key areas that can quickly and easily be assessed on farm.
First things first, feed and water.

1 – Feed space, is there enough of it?

  • Do adult cows have at least a head-locking yoke or 0.6m barrier space per cow.
  • Is the feed barrier height/style negatively impacting on intakes?
  • Is it too low and causing neck abrasions? Or are they able to comfortably reach all of the ration without unnecessary straining against solid structures?

2 – Is water access restricted at all?

Adult cows should have at least 0.1m per cow of water space available, ideally over multiple drinkers. This allows totally unlimited water intake. This water should be fresh and clean because stale or limited fresh water can restrict feed intakes especially if on particularly dry straw-based rations.

3 – How about stocking density / lying space?

An over-stocked building can quickly become a limiting factor on growth rates. Whether that is through limited feed and water space or the increased disease challenge from housing multiple animals in the same air space. On the other hand, it’s important to realise that an under-stocked building can restrict natural ventilation. This is through lack of heat produced by insufficient number and/or size of animals. AHDB produce many recommendations for stocking density which vary depending on size and age of stock and are accessed online.

4 – Is there adequate ventilation?

Ventilation, although often over-looked, can have a huge impact on both the welfare and productivity of livestock. An adequately ventilated building will provide enough shelter from both rain and wind. Plus it will allow enough ventilation to facilitate the removal of exhaled pathogens and moisture.

Ideally, a well designed and adequately stocked building will allow winds to ventilate on gusty days whilst preventing any draughts or chills at cow height but encourage natural ventilation to occur on perfectly still days. The ins-and-outs of designing a building capable of ventilating in such a way is well beyond the scope of this article. But that doesn’t mean we can’t easily assess your ventilation and make some simple fixes if need be:

  • On still mornings or evenings does moisture settle on your cows’ backs
  • What’s your calf pneumonia rate like throughout winter?

One of the easiest ways to assess your buildings ventilation is to light a smoke bomb and observe the behavior. Ideally the heat produced from the cows forces the smoke upwards and out through an open ridge and clears within two minutes.

If this isn’t happening or if smoke is left lingering in corners or even worse it rises and then cools and falls back down to cow height again then there are a few simple things you may be able to do. It’s often enough to allow the escape of exhaled pathogens and moisture. So lifting the ridge or removing it totally will often fix most problems. Don’t forget about inlets though. It’s vital to allow the influx of fresh air in replace of the stale air that’s rising through the ridge. Inlets are best provided above cow height to prevent any draughts. These should be at least four times the area of the outlet space to allow for adequate natural ventilation via the ‘stack effect’.

5 – Does your lighting and handling allow for easy inspection?

Other aspects to consider are both lighting and handling facilities. There should be enough lighting to be able to inspect all cattle at any time. Plus handling facilities should allow safe and easy handling of all types of stock.
If you have any questions about your own beef buildings, on how you might improve feed intakes, ventilation or handling facilities or, even better, if you intend to erect a new building then please do get in touch. We would relish the opportunity to have a chat with you regarding any of the above. We love a well ventilated building!