DAIRY cows at the University of Kentucky will soon be enjoying improved accommodations as university officials recently broke ground on the Coldstream Dairy Research Farm.
The name for the new barn will be the Dairy Housing, Teaching & Research Facility, and it will be the only facility of its kind at a research institution in the U.S., the announcement said.
The herd is currently housed in a freestall barn built in the 1960s. Although that type of facility is still the predominant housing system for dairy cows, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture officials wanted to try something new.
"This type of facility does not have any stalls," University of Kentucky dairy specialist Jeffrey Bewley said. "Instead, cows will be able to lie down in any position they want to within the barn. This has great potential to improve feet and leg health."
The barn will have a concrete center lane to provide access for a tractor and mixer wagon to come through and deliver feed. The cows will also be able to walk down an adjacent alley to access food and water. They will rest in the open bedding areas between feedings and milkings.
"It will be a tall, open barn designed to maximize natural ventilation, and it will be supplemented with fans and sprinklers for cooling," Bewley said. "It's designed to maximize cow comfort. The open bedding area provides a comfortable place for cows to lie down, and the cooling features will help our animals deal with hot and humid weather."
Bedding is the main reason for cows' improved health and overall comfort. Bewley said it starts with about 12 in. of sawdust. Cows naturally add to the sawdust with manure and urine. Twice a day, while the cows are out milking, the bedding gets mechanically stirred and mixed to form a dry material with minimal odor where cows can rest. Employees periodically will add fresh bedding to the mix.
Cows will have access to a grooming brush at all times. The barn will have curtains to protect cows from rain and colder temperatures. The curtains are automated, with a controller raising them up and down based on ambient conditions.
The facility will also incorporate multiple precision dairy technologies to allow researchers to understand the cow's behavioral and physiological response to her physical environment in ways that were not possible a few years ago.
The University of Kentucky dairy has a milking herd of around 100 Holstein cows that each average nearly 24,000 lb. of milk per year. The dairy farm facilities give undergraduate students a chance to observe a functional dairy operation as part of their courses.