Top tips for cattle sheds
The aim at housing is to provide stock with conditions similar to what they experience at pasture. Animals have water, feed, air, space, rest and light available to them in abundance at pasture.
These simple basics are often taken for granted and it is very seldom that all can be found together in animal housing. So, take a critical look at your housing to assess how you score in providing these basics.
A little bit of measurement and observation is worthwhile before improvements can be recommended. Small changes here and there are often all that's required.
Well maintained housing has a bearing on animal performance and animal welfare. Good maintenance is also important for those looking after stock, improving labour efficiency and safety. Maintenance should be carried out before stock are housed.
There are many types of feeding barriers in sheds around the country. They are all more or less doing the job but, if you observe the behaviour of animals at the barrier, you will see that small adjustments can often improve comfort, reach and feed intake.
Labour efficiency can be improved also. Of course, a feed barrier that is well designed, maintained and properly set up will not make up for insufficient, irregular or infrequent feeding methods.
Making a few measurements and comparing these with recommendations is a good way to start before making any adjustments or alterations.
Measurements to take are: height and thickness of stub wall, height of feed passageway above animal standing, height of neck rail, animal reach (measured from the stub wall to the line of feed that can't be accessed), the number of animals that can line up together, the number of spaces in diagonal, dovetail or individual bail type feed barriers, etc.
Observing animals at the feed barrier will tell you a lot. Using the information to make improvements is a challenge though.
Some of the things to look out for are hair gone off the back of the neck, lumps on the back of neck, pressure on the dewlap, animals not being able to get their knees close to the stub wall, short reach, animals without feed for long periods, bullying, a lot of feed left to push in, animals putting a leg over stub wall or getting out, restriction at shoulders (with diagonal barriers, dovetail or individual bails).
Some general dimensions recommended for feed barriers are as follows:
The height of the stub wall should be around 530mm for cows and big cattle.
420mm to 470mm for weanlings.
The stub wall should be narrow - 75mm to 100mm, if possible.
The neck rail should be adjustable and easy to adjust and should be secured on the outside of the stanchion. The height of the neckrail is the distance from the animal standing to the underside of the neckrail.
The height should be adjustable from 1,150mm to 1,250mm for cows and big cattle (ideally in 25mm steps or less).
The height for weanlings should be adjustable from about 900mm to 1,100mm. It is more difficult to recommend for weanlings because there is such a variation in size and they are growing throughout the housing period.
The aim is to ensure that animals have as much reach as possible without being able to get out through the barrier.
An animal resting a leg on the stub wall is a sign that they have just a bit too much room. The height of the stub wall and the distance between the stub wall and the neckrail are interdependent. For example, the correct height for the neckrail when used with a low stub wall will be different than when used with a high stub wall (for the same size animal).
Reach with diagonal and dovetail barriers is affected by their design, the number of animal spaces and the way they are installed.
The bottom rail should not be too high and the neckrail should be high enough so that an animal's neck should barely, if ever, have to rub off it. Generally, there are 10 spaces per bay which means that there are usually three free spaces per bay when cows and big cattle are lined up to feed.
Manufacturers are making a 'one size fits all' or they may be afraid that wider spaces could lead to two animals putting their heads into the one space at the same time. Fixing diagonal barriers at a slight angle out (about 20 degrees) or allowing them to pivot out will help to improve reach.
After observing faults, some modifications may be on the cards. Modifications should be minimal and not too costly. Why not just modify a barrier at one bay first to see the difference.
Pen divisions, dividing gates, cubicles and any other fittings like that take a lot of punishment from stock. Where they are welded and secured is also affected by rusting and corrosion. Bolts on clamps and brackets loosen. All of these fittings should be checked and fixed up before stock are housed. Latches on gates, doors and barriers should be checked and repaired, if necessary. Keeping animals secure in sheds or pens is essential.
The main thing is that there is enough water available at all times and that all animals have access to water whenever they need it.
Flow rate is generally not a limiting factor for housed animals.
A relatively low flow rate of five to 10 litres per minute is fine indoors, as long as this doesn't change throughout the housing period or from trough to trough.
Jets in ballcocks can get blocked or partially blocked, so frequent checking that water gets to troughs is recommended.
Check that water troughs/bowels are secure, have no sharp edges or loose covers.
Make sure that the water pipe is not in danger of being pulled loose by animals.
Leaks should be checked for regularly and attended to promptly.
A good standard of installation and pre-season maintenance will make life a lot easier over the winter.
There can be problems with water bowels too. The direction the bowel was turned when it was installed can increase the difficulty getting access to water.
Animals may find it easier to drink standing beside the feed barrier, which will prevent other animals from lining up to feed and vice versa. Check if water can be spilled or be lapped onto feed also.
Getting water to stock proved to be a big problem last winter during freezing weather conditions. Make some improvements to existing water supply systems or a look into providing an alternative temporary supply to be prepared in case it happens again.
Good light in a shed is an asset. Both natural and artificial are required. Good use of daylight is important for safe working conditions and for animal health. Natural light is normally provided by translucent roof sheets.
The Department specification for these is in S102 and they specify a stronger type now than before. Translucent sheets that are discoloured should be cleaned/replaced.
Damaged sheets will have to be replaced. Check the list in S102 for suppliers of suitable types. This work is seriously risky, so take every precaution to control this risk. A good level of artificial light is needed also. Fluorescent lamps are a practical type of lamp for this purpose.
A 1.5m twin fluorescent lamp, which uses 116 watts, will give good light for about 25 square metres of floor area. Maintenance of these is also hazardous. Tubes should be replaced before they blow because they get dimmer with age. Lamp covers need cleaning and tubes need replacement. Carry out this work before stock is housed.
An automatic scrapers maintenance checklist should include: oil level, changing oil and filter annually, leaks at hydraulic pipes and joints, rambox firmly bolted down, condition of the drive tongue, scraper wear face, ram seals clean, stop switch clear and working, no snagging of scraper wings.