Feeding Space Considerations

Having sufficient feeding space for the numbers of cows in the herd will obviously have implications for yield; where insufficient space is available at feed barriers, particularly with TMR feeding, the shiest cows and heifers, those far down the herd hierarchy and any lame or otherwise ill cows may not be able to feed sufficiently nor have the opportunity to eat the most freshly-mixed and dispensed feed. In most situations, dairy cattle should have at least 0.6m of feeding space at feeding barriers per cow.

Competition for feeding space can have further implications in terms of poor herd health, as those cows pushed out at feeding time are likely to suffer from health problems linked to poor nutrition and subsequent lowered immune defences, and are likely to spend more time standing and putting unnecessary pressure on their feet. Behaviour such as bullying and pushing as cows compete for feeding space will result in dirty feet and legs - increasing the potential of infectious foot conditions in addition to the risk of leg, hoof or other injury - and increase the potential for mastitis.

Effective feed barrier design can help in reducing the effects of competition. Barriers designed to reduce stretching and bullying will include features such as:

  • Neck rails that are offset by 20-30cm, 120-130cm from the ground.
  • Feed surfaces that are raised by at least 10cm.
  • Vertical bars to prevent cows pushing against each other.

Flexible neck rails are advantageous but might cause neck rubs where wires or ropes are not covered with suitable plastic, and wire can wear through posts with time.

Rubber floor coverings are increasingly used in dairy cattle housing. A strip of rubber matting laid directly next to the feed face can be useful in reducing the pressures placed on the forefeet during feeding, but unless it is recessed into the concrete, as part of a new build for instance, it may be difficult to scrape the passageway, unless an automatic scraper system can be used where one wing of the scraper can be modified.

Dairy cattle have a high water intake requirement and should never be denied access to good quality drinking water. Recommendations for space allowances are a minimum of 10cm of trough space per cow for all cows at all times, particularly when waiting to be milked or after milking. Floor areas around troughs should be particularly well-designed and maintained to limit slippage and foot damage, and should be scraped regularly