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What if optimizing dairy farming can mean more productivity and less environmental impact? - Part 2

What will the dairy market look like in ten years’ time? In the previous episode, we highlighted the need to meet the rising milk demand with a sustainable and efficient method of dairy production. Now, it is time to provide and explore some feasible solutions for making this possible.

Having established the link between higher performance and lower environmental impact, we can now introduce more precise examples / methods of practice, that can both maximise milk production and better integrate dairy cattle system into the circular bioeconomy.

From cow’s health and potential to an efficient milk production

Efficient milk production starts with better herd management and less waste. Consequently, preserving the cows’ health and longevity, fully exploiting their potential, plays a key role here. In relation to this, here are some useful tips:

  • Keeping an optimal shed design, through:
    • Ensuring there is clean and dry bedding, avoiding contact with mud and manure. The latter can expose the herd to more pathogens, increasing the risk of illness.
    • Making sure that there is enough room to lie down for a proper rumination time, as well as space to stretch out.
    • Utilising non-slip flooring, which reduces the risk of animals slipping and consequently injuries.
    • Establishing effluent management that keeps manure separate from food and bedding.
    • Maintaining feed efficiency, by ensuring cows have access to fresh feed, optimizing micronutrient supplementation, and relying on precision feeding techniques, for a proper daily consistency of rations and dietary nutrient supply.

  • Managing heat stress. For most cows an environmental temperature of between 6 to 18°C is ideal. High temperatures can reduce milk production and cause the cow to go into heat stress. It is therefore important to manage heat and humidity levels, according to the needs of each specific breed. To help you manage heat and humidity on your farm why not try:
    • Open-sided shed, which maximises ventilation.
    • Openings at the top of the roof or a steeper roof.
    • Orientating new barns with their long side facing into the prevailing wind, to maximise natural air flow.
    • Ensure a sufficient amount of shade with the help of awnings.
    • Sprinklers, which are among the most effective methods and often installed above the feed fence. This way cows can be soaked and have time to dry before milking. Particular attention should be paid to water level, which must not be too high to run down to the teats, as this creates a significant bacterial load on teat orifices.

  • Heat detection. Understanding when cows are in heat is the cornerstone of maximized reproduction and efficient breeding. Besides training staff to visually monitor cows, activity monitors, such as pedometers, could be an even more reliable and precise method of heat detection. In fact, they can track how much a cow walks and detect consequent peaks in activity, which may indicate that the animal is in heat. Click here to learn more about pedometers!
  • Improving genetic potential of animals through planned crossbreeding or selection within breeds. This solution could help to reduce diseases such as mastitis and metritis, as well as improve the tolerance that the animal has to heat stress.
  • Extended lactation, by:
    • Detecting the potential of each cow, and understanding which ones are prone to produce milk for an extended period. This analysis could be easier with the support of detailed software for farm management.
    • Fewer calvings per year and, consequently, less replacement heifers.
    • Fewer days dry per cow per year, reducing the annual herd requirement for feed while maintaining milk production.
    • Cows producing milk for the same number of lactations, thus the animals will have longer and more productive lives.
    • Improving cow’s health, as most diseases occur around calving.

Step by step, towards sustainable dairy farming

 Given the emerging importance of lowering the environmental impact of dairy farming, we have put together the following advice:

  • Opting for feed that is:
    • Locally produced. We suggest where possible consulting your local supplier, to discover feed producers close to you.
    • Sustainable. An example could be incorporating by-products, derived from food processing industries, into your dairy cows’ diets.
    • Low in emission. Some feed is specially designed to decrease the level of Methane released from the gastrointestinal tract of dairy cattle.

  • A responsible manure and fertilizer management, by:
    • Using cow manure in Biogas systems. This practice allows for reducing emissions of GHGs associated with the storage of manure, as well as improving the quality of fertilizer and replacing fossil fuel energy sources.
    • Lower manure application rates and the incorporation of manure into soils.
    • Switching from raw to composted manure. More specifically, the latter naturally slowly releases nutrients to growing plants, while building soil structure and increasing its water retention capacity.
    • Opting for commercial fertilizer produced in an environmentally friendly way with a lower Carbon footprint.
  • Shifting to the use of sustainable energy (solar panels and biofuels), to replace fossil fuel energy sources (diesel and electricity) wherever possible.

In summary, dairy cattle system has great potential to face the growing milk demand, through the optimization of production efficiency and a responsible use of resources.
The Dairy sector’s commitment to this goal has already led to products which combine efficiency, respect for the environment and lower costs for farmers. Some examples of this are products like the electronic pulsators designed to ensure a low electrical consumption, or washing systems with water-saving function.

However there are numerous products and solutions available to help you to improve and future-proof your dairy farms efficiency! Click here to discover them all and be sure to stay tuned for our next blog episode!

 

Date: 22 January 2021 to 31 December 2021

  • Summary:
    Our world is rapidly changing, read more here!