Improve Your Barn Environment to Increase Animal Welfare May 5, 2023 Before building or improving your barn, it’s essential to consider your herd’s animal welfare to increase your farm’s profits long-term. Dr. Mike Wolf, consulting veterinarian for VES-Artex, says, “If we listen closely, we can hear the cows critiquing their environment.” Dr. Wolf goes on in his webinar, Keeping Cow Comfort Consistent in an Animal-Centered Environment, “What harms the cow, harms all of us.” While there are many different options to increase your herd’s comfort on the market today, it’s important to consider which options will make the most difference in building the most efficient barn. Producers can increase efficiencies with self-locking feed fronts, improved freestalls, and advanced water troughs. Dr. Wolf states, “Many late 1990-2000-era barns need a makeover,” since technology has evolved to increase cow comfort.” Efficient Self-Locking Feed Fronts VES-Artex self locks are designed to restrain animals to streamline labor efficiency and make physical examinations, vaccinations, artificial inseminations, pregnancy checks, and routine treatments faster and safer for the animal and caretaker. Focusing our designs with cow comfort and ease of use in mind, our self locks have large opening sizes available for cows in both the open and down cow positions. They also feature group lock-up and an individual locking ability that uses visual locking mechanisms to avoid accidental lock-ups, all while keeping things as quiet as possible by incorporating sound-dampening hardware. Our self-locking feed fronts allow cows to access feed more comfortably while providing an efficient locking system for you to care for and treat your animals. Comfortable Freestall Beds Research shows that cows should spend 10 to 14 hours daily laying down, as longer lying times increase milk production. Therefore, it’s important to encourage cows to lie down by providing adequately sized, clean, comfortable, and strong stalls. Dr. Wolf states that the cow’s stall “should allow as much freedom as possible…and once she engages the stall there should be little hesitation to lay down or rise.” Our freestall systems focus on key points of animal welfare such as adequate lunge, head, and hip space, avoiding any pressure points. When sized correctly to your herd, stalls will index the animals straight in the beds and prevent manure from entering the bedding, providing a cleaner bed with more space available per cow and longer laying times. VES-Artex offers freestall systems for all applications including floor-mounted (mattresses), rail-mounted (deep pack bedding), different age groups (young stock included), and even increased cow comfort premium stall systems to keep herds of all ages and breeds comfortable and encourage them to lay down. The Bio-Rail freestall system is popular due to its durability and versatility. Highly focused on cow comfort, it allows more space around the cow without physical obstructions, while being easy to install and maintain. The Bio-Rail works with all bedding types as it provides additional free space under the stalls for cleaning and bed maintenance. Easy to Manage Water Troughs Producers know how important it is to provide adequate and clean water to increase their herd's comfort, decrease heat stress, and maintain a cow’s healthy diet–all of which aid in increasing milk production. Aqua Dump Water Trough was designed to keep water sources clean with the ability to quickly and easily dump and refill water. This simple solution makes cleaning easy and keeps your cows hydrated, thus more milk to the bulk tank. Increasing profitability is certainly the end goal for dairy producers, and research has shown us that improving cow comfort and animal welfare directly results in increased milk production. That’s a win-win all around! While there are several options for steel products on the market, consider cost and process efficiency when determining what is best for your farm. Watch your cows’ behaviors as they will tell you how much they like or dislike something in their environment. Listen to what Dr. Wolf has to say in his podcast about the telling signs from your animals that will make you consider making a change in your barn.