There is perhaps no other area in the agriculture industry more demanding than the dairy sector with a seven day work week and many operations running 24 hours a day.
But for those who choose to be in the dairy business, it is a passion either passed down from generation to generation or acquired through the desire to maintain a sector of the ag industry that has been in demand since the founding of the country.
Kentucky is making great strides from a research standpoint to make it better, more productive and maybe even a little easier for the hundreds of dairy producers located across the state and, perhaps more importantly, to make it better for the cows.
The University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, Food and Environment recently completed work on a facility located at the Coldstream Dairy Research Farm that will help in those efforts. The Dairy Housing, Teaching and Research Facility will operate with cow comfort a priority, according to Dr. Jeffrey Bewley, UK dairy specialist and associate extension professor.
He said the structure was created not only with cow comfort in mind but in a way that would be very similar to what dairy producers are familiar with in their everyday operations.
“We tried to design a barn that was representative of what a lot of our farmers in the state are building,” said Bewley. “While there are some things here that might be unique research-wise, we didn’t want to build something that wasn’t related to what the farmers would see. We wanted to build a functional facility that we could learn from and help the producers.”
Much of the program at UK focuses on precision dairy monitoring which allows each cow to be studied in a variety of different aspects including breeding cycles, disease detection, time in which the cows are standing or lying down, how much time the animals spend eating and the physiology of the cow, to name a few.
The new facility helps in those respects. It also contains a real-time location system that serves much like a GPS for cows and records where each cow is located at all times.
“We’re basically trying to improve the life of the animal and hopefully with this type of technology we can detect when the cows are sick sooner so that we can intervene and have more chances at success,” said Bewley.
Construction-wise, rubber mats are located in areas where the cows walk, eat and drink so they never have to step on concrete in the facility. There is also a bedding area which utilizes 12 inches of sawdust that is mechanically stirred twice a day to form a dry material that minimizes odors from manure and urine and allows for a comfortable area where the cows can rest.
The barn will also contain mechanical curtains that are activated based on ambient conditions protecting the cows from rain and colder temperatures; six grooming brushes with 24/7 access for the cows; and large fans and soakers to keep the cows cool in the hot weather months.
“Our goal is to make a very, very comfortable environment for the cows,” said Bewley. “We thought about the cows first and not people first.”