Getting on a Firm Footing with DairyCo Business Group

Published 1 April 09

Getting on a firm footing with DairyCo business group

Geoff and Janet Carrington are dairy farmers on Bassett Wood Farm, which covers 274 acres on the edge of the Peak District.  They have 120 Holstein-Friesians and have been tenants on the farm for over 15 years.   When the Carringtons arrived it was obvious that the buildings had to be upgraded, and they've made substantial changes over the years; but lately they've been able to shift their attention to the inside of the buildings, most recently installing rubber matting in their cubicle sheds.

The Carringtons are members of their local DairyCo business group, run by DairyCo's extension officer for the region Judith Stafford.  It was via one of the group's meetings they had a visit to a farm where the cubicle sheds had been fitted with rubber matting throughout. Mr Carrington explains: "The farmer had installed the mats and found them a great investment.  At the time we were particularly concerned about the concrete floors we had, we knew we had to improve them and were wondering how best to do it, so the mats seemed a good potential option."

"We booked a consultation with a company that supplied mats, and on that very morning one of the cows slipped really badly," adds Mrs Carrington.  "We wanted to reduce the chance of the cows slipping in the most effective way possible."

The Carringtons decided that mats would be worth the investment.  "They are expensive," concedes Mr Carrington, "but you get your money back.  I really hate to see the cows slipping and if you save just one cow then the investment is really worth while."

"The mats were put down a few months ago and we noticed the difference immediately.  I was really concerned before that the cows weren't lying down enough, we'd tried using straw on the old concrete but it didn't make much difference.  As soon as we put in the mats with sawdust they started lying down much more, the rubber is obviously very comfortable, and it's easy to keep clean too.

"We've now installed the mats down the feed fence," continues Mr Carrington. "We did the first half one day and all the cows went straight onto the rubber and were pushing to get to the trough where the mats were.   They always want to walk down and stand on the rubber; it's much kinder on their feet and legs."  

As well as significantly improving cow comfort, the mats have had an impact on the animals' health.   "I've noticed far fewer ulcers since we put in the mats.  Though unfortunately they haven't had the same effect on dermatitis, I'd hoped they might help reduce the cases, which they did seem to at first but the dermatitis has come back in recent weeks after the cold weather."

The cows also display more bulling behavior.  Dr Stafford explains: "You often find this sort of improvement and again it's down to the cows' fear of slipping being reduced."

Ultimately, the change has also impacted on milk yield: "I'd say yield has risen by 2-3 litres since we installed the mats," says Mr Carrington, "there hasn't been a downside to installing them so far, in fact, the cows are so much more comfortable on it that we're planning on extending it into the parlour.  At the moment we've put a spare piece in the doorway to the parlour and it's amazing how much the cows want to get onto it, it makes moving them about a lot easier.

"The mats have even made a difference to my own knees!" concludes Mr Carrington, "so it's easy to see why the cows are so much more comfortable on them."

The Carringtons have also installed new brushes since seeing them at the same farm in the business group meeting.  "We've put in the new rotating brushes, the cows were a bit nervous of them at first but now they've got used to them they love them."

Dr Stafford is very pleased that the DairyCo business group has proven valuable for the Carringtons.  "It's very rewarding when such successful changes are made as a result of the meetings," she says, "even small changes like putting in the brushes can have an impact, and with a rise in milk yield and healthier, happier cows it goes to show that it's worth joining a group to see just what a difference these changes can make."