Stand Off Pads for Dairying in Northland

August 2012

A DairyNZ trial on the best substrate on stand-off pads for cows over winter

Kate Wynn from DairyNZ Northland supervised a trial of cow behaviour and welfare on uncovered stand-off pads, both concrete and post-peelings, using movement monitoring tags in order to arrive at recommendations on the best stand-off pad material and its use. It is part of a larger, nationwide project on standoff facility design and management, including surface materials, animal welfare and food safety, effluent capture, costs, regulatory approval and management guidelines.

Cows would spend less time on pastures during adverse weather, minimizing pugging, improving pasture growth and milk production, better nitrogen fixation and recycling of captured nutrients.

Dry cows on the Fonterra Jordan Valley commercial farm at Hikurangi, just north of Whangarei, were kept on pads for 14 hours a day during six weeks in June and July 2010, wearing movement monitoring tags for two 10-day periods during the trial. The ICE tags on the back leg above the fetlock record the number of cow steps, standing, lying bouts and grazing periods. Cow weights, cleanliness scores, locomotion scores and teat swabs at the start and end of each period were generated and analysed.

Jordan Valley Farm is located on the Hikurangi Swamp, which is subject to regular flooding, where many paddocks are under water for long periods.

The trial was also to look at the effects of different types of pad material maintenance, including no intervention, ripping once a week and ripping twice a week; and the animal welfare implications of cows spending long periods on pads. In normal farming practice cows are not usually kept off pasture on hard surfaces for such long periods of each day.

For the trial, cows had six square metres of space each on the pads. Thirty cows were stood on the JV concrete yard, four groups of 130 cows in sections of the farm’s new stand-off pad with a initial depth of post peelings to one metre, and a third group of 120 cows, on a limestone base stand-off pad at a nearby Kokopu commercial farm.

The trial intention was to compare surfaces in durability, ease of maintenance, cost, environmental effects, bacterial contamination and compaction.

At Jordan Valley Farm the cows were randomly selected for the five treatment groups (four on post peelings, one on concrete) and they were given one week settling period before observation.

During the six-week trial time, they spent 14 hours a day on the different pads, two to three hours on the nearby concrete feed pad getting maize silage and seven to eight hours on pasture.

Wynn videoed the cows walking on and off the pads at least once a week to gauge lameness.

Some lameness among the cows on the concrete has indicated a need for rubber mats, which will be another phase of the research work during the coming winter.

Fonterra Jordan Valley milks 650 cows, calving late August, and has capacity for the full herd on the standoff pad and the adjacent feed pad.

Four years ago Fonterra constructed a large standoff pad, 48 by 65 metres, fenced with solid timber and laid with post peelings. This is capable of taking the whole herd of 650 cows, which then move next door to the feed-pad for silage and supplements, which is 33 by 69 metres, excluding sumps, and to the nearby 50-bale rotary parlour and yard.

“If we hadn’t installed the feed-pad and stand-off pad, and been able to get the cows off pasture for 20 to 30 days if needed, we probably wouldn’t be dairying on this farm,” Fonterra’s National Farms Manager Brendan Attrill has commented (Dairy Exporter, October 2009).

Jordan Valley Farm is located partly on the Hikurangi Swamp scheme, which is subject to regular floods after heavy rainfall, which requires sharemilker Mark Benton to remove the cows from saturated or flooded paddocks for sometimes weeks at a time.

An extension of the cow behaviour and welfare trial compared different management treatments of the post peelings in the Fonterra JV standoff pad.

For the pad comparison and maintenance trial, Wynn and Benton and staff members divided the big standoff pad into four quadrants.

The post peelings were loaded up to one metre depth throughout and each pair of quadrants contains a higher and drier mound where cows congregate. The entire pad is drained under a metal base with Novaflow.

The peelings on one quadrant were loaded and undisturbed for six weeks of cow occupation, another received a rip with a tractor-drawn blade once a week and the remaining two quadrants were ripped twice a week.

On all quadrants the peelings compacted to around 900mm depth and the top 250mm turned to muck everywhere except the mounds.

There were no noticeable differences in cow behaviour between the ripped and non-ripped pads, but there was clearly an improvement for cow comfort, as measured by willingness to lay down, when moving from concrete to limestone to post peeling surfaces on stand-off pads.

The post peel pads all packed up after five weeks when Mark Benton no longer wanted his cows using them. They looked like “armadillos” with crusted coverings, although they cleaned up in about three weeks on pasture.

“The cost of ripping is negligible, but it didn’t offer clear benefits,” Wynn commented.

Cows on the concrete pads laid down a great deal more during the day rather than the night, whereas on the post-peelings they laid down more at night.

The results of the movement monitoring showed an average of three cow lying bouts during the daytime on concrete and two on the post peeling pad treatments and the limestone.

However during night time the number of lying bouts went down to two on concrete and one on the limestone, and up to four on the no-rip and one-rip peeling pads, and up to nearly five average on the two-rip pads.

Total daily average lying time was 2.5 hours on limestone, 4.5 on concrete and 5-8 hours on the post-peeling pads.

A tentative conclusion regarding the concrete pad is that cows who for whatever reason don’t lie down for long periods in the night will compensate with more down time in the day, but a possible drawback might be reduced feeding time and potential loss of weight.