The latest information on cow comfort and healthy heifer housing has become even more accessible. Veterinarians in North America may now register for a free two-year subscription to The Dairyland Initiative’s website.  

The subscription is sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, and aims to facilitate the construction of welfare-friendly dairy cattle housing, providing an optimal environment that promotes the health and productivity of calves, heifers and cows.

Rebecca (Mentink) Brotzman, DVM, Associate Outreach Specialist, Food Animal Production Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, says The Dairyland Initiative website systematically addresses each aspect of facility design that affects cattle health and productivity, for calves through adult cows. 

“There are two decision trees in the ‘Wisconsin Blueprint’, prioritized lists of questions and answers for addressing the needs of cow and replacement heifer housing,” Brotzman explains. “Each answer is supported with charts, photographs, diagrams, video clips, and interactive spreadsheets to illustrate the importance and impact of welfare-friendly dairy cattle housing.”

Brotzman adds that the website is useful not only for helping clients in their decision-making for designing new barns, but also can help address problems in existing facilities. “For example, the ‘Mattress to Sand Bedding Conversion Partial Budget Calculator’ is a tool to help farmers understand the potential cow health and financial impact of converting a mattress-bedded freestall to sand,” she says.

There are also pages dedicated to remodeling stalls in the Blueprint and virtual tours sections of the website. In contrast to published books on facility design, The Dairyland Initiative’s website is an iterative and interactive resource, with the ability to be updated as soon as new information becomes available and enhanced as more virtual tours and decision-making tools are built. “Dairy farms in Wisconsin can also have their facility plans submitted to our team of veterinarians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine for a Cow (calf/heifer) Comfort Risk Assessment for a modest fee,” Brotzman adds.

A team approach
The Dairyland Initiative has information relevant to dairy producers, veterinarians, dairy facility construction and design professionals and lenders to foster a team approach to designing cow comfort-friendly facilities. “When considering a new facility or remodeling an old barn, it is very important to bring together all the different professionals that serve a dairy farm, whether the collaboration happens in large group meetings or one-on-one,” Brotzman explains.

“It is impossible for one person to be the expert in everything that goes into building a successful barn, from soil conservation and site planning, to facility design that accounts for cattle health, ease of management and ability to accommodate current and future herd size needs, to lending and keeping the farm financially healthy, and many other details in between,” she says. “Gleaning as much information as possible from all of those involved with planning, construction and eventual management of the facility certainly ensures farmers can make the best-informed decision possible, but the amount of information can become overwhelming.”

The Dairyland Initiative strives to make this process easier in two ways, by pulling together into one, organized place the most up-to-date recommendations on the aspects of facility design of greatest concern to the cow, and by working to educate and make these welfare-friendly standards readily available to those involved in helping farmers plan new and remodeled dairy cattle facilities.

The latest in science-based dairy facility design and management recommendations can be found here. Veterinarians should contact a Pfizer Animal Health representative to obtain the passcode for a free two-year web access subscription.